Fred Hersch & The WDR Big Band – Begin Again – Palmetto Records 55:49****
( Fred Hersch – piano; The WDR Big Band Arranged & Conducted by Vince Mendoza)
Throughout his lengthy and storied career, Fred Hersch has led exploratory assertive trios, polished his solo playing skill, and extracted natural exultations from duo sessions. In this outing Begin Again, Hersch tests his mettle with the Cologne Germany based WDR Big Band, arranged and conducted by highly regarded Vince Mendoza, that features nine original Hersch compositions that had appeared in some of those previously noted formats.
The opening and title track “Begin Again” had never been previously recorded and exhibits a classical line with diverse rhythmic patters that Hersch delivers in a flowing sequence. The orchestral backing is precise and provides alto saxophonist Johan Hörlén some open space to show his lyrical side.
The WDR Big Band is one of Europe’s outstanding jazz ensembles and under the direction of Vince Mendoza displays its capabilities and understanding of Hersch’s compositions such as “Havana”. Now while the number does not exhibit any direct Cuban influence, it has a rhumba flair over which Hersch stretches his long single note runs. There is an interesting interlude from tenor saxophonist Paul Heller over-layered through the latter part of the arrangement.
“Out Someplace”(Blues for Matthew Shepard) is a very spare and sparse avant-garde composition that Hersch wrote for the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company. Shepard, who was gay, was brutally murdered in Wyoming in 1998, so Hersch was trying to provide a musical story that surrounded Shepard’s death.
For both a change of pace and musical contrast, the next two tracks “Rain Waltz” and “The Big Easy” are the perfect remedy. With a crisp approach and an approachable arrangement, the former is structured for band members to take advantage of solo space with both trumpeter Ruud Breuls and alto saxophonist Karolina Strassmayer using the opportunity to delight the listener. The latter track has a New Orleans groove and swings lightly along with Hersch offering piano interjections, while trombonist Ludwig Nuss has a lengthy plunger-muted solo. Complimenting this is a muted trumpet intervention from Andy Haderer.
Kicked along by drummer Hans Dekker “Forward Motion” reflects Hersch’s dynamic compositional style with disciplined sweeping rhythms and reshaping impetus. This establishes a framework for soloists such as trumpeter Ruud Breuls, trombonist Andy Hunter, and tenor saxophonist Paul Heller to deliver a solid swinging feel to the composition.
This release is another gem from the master jeweler of the piano.
Song Without Words
The Big Easy
Forward Motion; The Orb
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