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Focus, the second record by the trio of Fred Hersch, Michael Moore, and Gerry Hemingway, continues with the same emphasis on intimacy and subtlety found on their self-titled debut. To quote from the fifth verse of the Wallace Stevens poem "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird":
I do not know which to prefer The beauty of inflections Or the beauty of innuendoes The blackbird whistling Or just after.
That's the idea behind this trio: to harness a lifetime's worth of jazz exploration in the cause of delicate motion. Fred Hersch, as he has revealed on recordings under his own name, tends to naturally occupy this space. His duets with Bill Frisell, for example, took the avant guitar master to a new zone of gentle discovery. Saxophonist/clarinetist Michael Moore is probably best known for his work with the Clusone 3: wild, zany, and impossible to predict. Here Moore settles down and plays a more direct melodic role. Not to say that he always falls within some restricted circumspect lines that dictate jazz normalcyquite the opposite, in fact. Some of the most revealing moments on Focus occur when he leads the trio just outside the boundaries. Drummer Gerry Hemingway is also better known for his work in avant jazz circles, but here he plays the role of colorist. The percussion on Focus is like a painting done with watercolors instead of with oils. It's not sharp and bold, but it conveys a smoother and more delicate continuum of rhythmic space.
While those who come to Thirteen Ways from the world of avant-garde jazz may find themselves wondering what happened to the splash and bang of "out" jazz, it's not a difficult feat to settle into the more reflective environment Focus projects. It's outstanding listening for the late night hours, when action gradually settles into reflection. Certainly not background music, but a big leap from what you might expect given the previous material from the players in this trio.
Track Listing: Focus; Janeology; Out Someplace (Blues For Matthew Shepard); Autumn Eves; En Tee; Tango Bittersweet; Bug
Music; Fim De Inverno; Identity; One Note To My Wife; Habanera.
Personnel: Fred Hersch: piano; Michael Moore: alto saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet; Gerry Hemingway: drums,