Music
1:02 pm
Thu July 10, 2014

Fred Hersch Knows His Trios

Originally published on Fri July 18, 2014 10:23 am

Over the last 30 years, jazz pianist Fred Hersch has recorded in solo, duo, quartet, quintet and double-trio settings, with big band and with orchestras. Fresh Air jazz critic Kevin Whitehead says the classic piano, bass and drums trio format suits Hersch best of all in a review of Floating.

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Transcript

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. Over the last 30 years jazz pianist Fred Hersch has recorded in solo, duo, quartet, quintet and double-trio settings with big band and with orchestra's. Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead says the classic piano, bass and drums trio format suits Hersch best of all.

(SOUNDBITE OF FRED HERSCH TRIO SONG, "HOME FRIES")

KEVIN WHITEHEAD, BYLINE: Fred Hersch's Trio on his tune "Home Fries," recalling Keith Jarrett's early rock-influenced trio. Hersch knows his trios. He's played with one great rhythm team after another. The latest being drummer Eric McPherson and bassist John Hebert - who's so good I wish he were just a little louder in the mix. They really sound like a band. Some jazz groups play complicated melodies and then improvise over a straight swing beat. When Hersch and Company start with a tricky rhythmic motif, they stick to it. Their version of the standard "You And The Night And The Music" revolves around a Cuban syncopation, Eric McPherson slaps down a beat they stay with and expand on when they improvise.

(SOUNDBITE OF FRED HERSCH TRIO SONG, "YOU AND THE NIGHT AND THE MUSIC")

WHITEHEAD: Fred Hersch pulls together jazz piano traditions that have little in common. On the one hand, he extends the harmonically-refined, romantic balladry associated with Bill Evans. For Hersch's new Trio album "Floating" he's written a few new ballads - a couple with circular melodies that keep going around and around. To my ears, the best of the slow ones is the album's solo piano feature "West Virginia Rose" which sounds like no one but Hersch himself. He has a distinctive way of voicing chords to somehow sound both bright and melancholy.

(SOUNDBITE OF HERSCH TRIO SONG, "WEST VIRGINIA ROSE")

WHITEHEAD: Hersch also draws key inspiration from the revered iconoclast The Loneliest Monk, another pianist who like the tune and the solos to make a unified package. Fred Hersch begins his improvisation on Monk's "Let's Cool One," tightly focused on the melody. But even minutes later, when the pianist is really flying, he keeps calling back the tune's stammering rhythms and thick harmonies.

(SOUNDBITE OF HERSCH TRIO SONG, "LET'S COOL ONE")

WHITEHEAD: As justly esteemed as Fred Hersch's ballads are, I'm more drawn to his trio's playful side on their album "Floating." Even within the focused arrangements, everyone has room to kick the tunes around. Playing lively games with rhythm has been improvised music's main concern from the beginning, after all. It's baked right into the jazz cake. The pretty ballads are just sweet icing.

(SOUNDBITE OF HERSCH TRIO SONG, "LET'S COOL ONE")

GROSS: Kevin Whitehead writes for Point of Departure and Wondering Sound and is the author of "Why Jazz?" He reviewed "Floating" the new album by the Fred Hersch Trio on the Palmetto Label. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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