There is a lot of subtle beauty here. "The Bebop Waltz" and "IDH" sound as if they belong in a bar where people unwind after a long day. The clientele doesn't want to think too much or wander off into a daze. They just want to meditate and that's exactly what Frank Kimbrough's slow and light piano touches allow the listener to do. A more sinister side lies underneath these tracks, however. The last notes from Kimbrough on both tracks hang around for a while and deny a smooth ending.
This is fitting because you can't sit back and veg for very long with Dr. Cyclops' Dream. There are far too many abrupt shifts and pulsating moves for that. "Bartok," the opener and a tribute to the classical composer of the same name, contains all of the elements of good but standard bebop. Yet all of these parts are a slightly out of place. They never converge as they "should" but they do work. This type of arrangement is all over this disc with tunes like "Swan Song" and "Beyond Recall." A different type of sift is found on tracks like "Beyond Recall" where typical bop lines are pierced by playing that is not so much out of tempo or out of synch as it is logically out place. Luckily, logic is not always right as these combinations work out just fine at the visceral level.
There are a number of short vignettes, if you will, that add color. The also feature highly accurate titles like "I've Got Those Classic Blues" and "Dream Time."
All of the musicians play well here but it is bassist Ben Allison that really stands out. Actually he doesn't stand out so much but rather is the key to letting all of the other musicians shine. Bass players have the task similar to drummers in that when they solo, they are usually solo and when they play with the rest of the group, they tend to stay in the background. However bassists tend to have to fit between the cracks more often than do drummers. The result is that they have to make significant alterations for many of the slightest changes from the other musicians. Allison is clearly up to the job here as a map of changes in bass patterns would probably be even more frantic than the pattern shifts of Dr. Cyclops' Dream as a whole. His skills shine brightest on "Cro-Mag at T's" which closes the disc and clocks in a second shy of a minute. Allison utilizes machine gun like bass runs to set the mood and pulse for the track. Ted Nash and Michael Blake also add immeasurably to the track with their horns but it Allison that dominates.
It would be highly problematic to go through this review without once mentioning that the late pianist Herbie Nichols is the author of all of these compositions. Art Lange's linear notes argue that Nichols was a fine player of bop and soul jazz but that his greatest strength was as a composer. I don't know enough about his music to add further comment on this topic nor to compare the material here with the original versions. I can say with confidence that there is some fine music on Dr. Cyclops' Dream and that this is true whether you know Nichols' music or are in the same boat as me.