Fred Hersch And Julian Lage – Free Flying – Palmetto Records PM2168, 52:53 [9/2/2013] ****1/2:
(Fred Hersch – piano; Julian Lage – guitar)
Described by Vanity Fair as “the most arrestingly innovate pianist in jazz over the last decade or so…”, Fred Hersch is difficult to categorize. He is renowned as an instrumentalist, band leader, composer and theatrical conceptualist. Additionally, he is in great demand as a collaborator with various bands and vocalists. A five-time Grammy nominee, he has sustained an impressive recording career. Among his many accomplishments is his 2011 solo run at the Village Vanguard (the first in the venue’s 75-year history) that was captured on Alone At The Vanguard.
With a catalogue spanning three decades, Hersch has performed solo, with a trio, quintet and “pocket orchestra” garnering critical acclaim. He has collaborated with Joe Henderson, Art Farmer, Charlie Haden, Stan Getz and Bill Frisell, among many others. Perhaps his greatest accomplishment is as a composer. Hersch has over 70 instrumental compositions that have been recorded, notably Leaves Of Grass (an instrumental octet based on the poetry of Walt Whitman) and My Coma Dreams (11 instrumentalists and animation-computer generated imagery). He has received numerous grants and fellowships, and is active as an educator. Above all, his music transcends boundaries.
Hersch’s latest project is a duet with prodigious guitarist Julian Lage (Carlos Santana, Gary Burton, Herbie Hancock). Recorded live at Jazz at Kitano in New York City, the nine tracks draw on the complicated musical threads of bebop jazz and classical music. Opening the album is “Song Without Words #4: Duet” (one of seven Hersch compositions). With complex rhythm and melodic verve, Hersch’s playing is compelling. The Bach-infused motifs ease seamlessly into Lage’s jazzy guitar. That subtle dynamic is the essence of this duet. Next up is a jaunty gospel tribute to Bill Frisell, “Down Home”. Hersch’s instrumentals demonstrate impeccable, stride tempo and New Orleans-esque bravado. Lage slides into the jam with punctuated runs but manages to execute graceful accompaniment as Hersch returns.
The chemistry is palpable. On the ballad, “Heartland” Lage starts off with the lead before Hersch takes command with a superb, lyrical interpretation. Each player can produce aesthetic shadings to each other, without interrupting the harmonic flow. On the up-tempo title cut, there is a cohesive, unbridled grasp of complicated rhythm and notation. Hersch and Lage bounce from counter emphasis to unison with resounding fluidity. They have a fresh take on musical constructs. This is evident on “Song Without Words # 3: Tango”, where the duo emerge from the relaxed constraint and inject some bluesy aggressiveness.
Post-bop enthusiasts will be pleased with the two covers: “Beatrice” swings and gives both Hersch and Lage an opportunity to jam with syncopated energy. With impeccable timing, they interpret “Monk’s Dream” utilizing quirky rhythms and accents to pay bona fide homage to a jazz master. But the Hersch material benefits from the interplay between these two gifted musicians. “Stealthiness” (for Jim Hall, a former Hersch collaborator) is unpredictable and delivers prominent improvisation.
Free Flying is great jazz!
TrackList: Song Without Words #4: Duet; Down Home; Heartland; Free Flying; Beatrice; Song Without Words #3: Tango; Stealthiness; Gravity’s Pull; Monk’s Dream