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Fred Hersch: Fred Hersch Trio '97 @ The Village Vanguard

Doug Collette By

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Pianist Fred Hersch's discography has been both broadening and deepening in recent years. Besides solo and group recordings, he has released collaborations such as Live in Healdsburg (Anzic, 2018), with multi-instrumentalist Anat Cohen. In addition, the archiving of his past work has borne fruit in the form of a remastered Heartsongs (Sunnyside, 2018) and now Fred Hersch Trio '97 @ The Village Vanguard.

The latter is a corollary to the former, recorded in concert with a different lineup some seven years after that initial studio effort of Hersch's with a working band (then including bassist Michael Formanek and drummer Jeff Hirshfield). The twenty-one year old live set from the hallowed venue features bassist Drew Gress and drummer Tom Rainey on a near hour-long compilation of eight tracks, an intermingling of standards, classic jazz compositions and original pieces wherein the threesome balance their collective skills at interpretation with an equally engrossing exposition of their chemistry.

The leader's own composition, "Evanessence," for instance, is every bit as provocative as anything here, in part because it is one of the few tunes that also appears on the other recording. As such, it carries the personal imprint of the respective groups, but its relative abandon here also makes for stark contrast to the precision in "I Wish I Knew." Meanwhile, Hersch, Gress and Rainey inhabit a middle ground between those two approaches during their exploration of pianist's original, "Swamp Thang:" the mutual pleasure these three musicians share is altogether infectious.

'97 @ The Village Vanguard reaffirms that Fred Hersch has been conjuring such effects for years now, not just on the concert sets of more recent vintage. Certainly the level of nuance is somewhat greater during Live In Europe (Palmetto, 2018) (understandably so as his current band has been together roughly a decade), but this recording proves that the base level of subtlety with which this pianist plays has long been far higher than most of his contemporaries, on his chosen instrument and otherwise.

How else to explain the bright bouncy likes of "Easy to Love?" It's not speed so much as space in play here, the utilization of which component, not surprisingly, becomes more obvious at the slower tempo of "My Funny Valentine." The degree to which each member in this Fred Hersch Trio anticipates the others is also a measure of the respective musician's patience and response time, a delicate dynamic rehearsal can nurture, but which only ascends to its highest level through natural chemistry, as on display here.

Track Listing: Easy to Love; My Funny Valentine; Evanessence; Andrew John; I Wish I Knew; Swamp Thang; You Don't Know What Love Is.

Personnel: Fred Hersch: piano; Drew Gress: bass; Tom Rainey: drums.

Title: Fred Hersch Trio '97 @ The Village Vanguard | Year Released: 2018 | Record Label: Palmetto Records

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