Slowly but surely, over the last five years, Fred Hersch has been encroaching upon Brad Mehldau's position as the premiere player on jazz piano. And while it's debatable the latter's openness to experimentation with the likes of electronicist/percussionist Mark Giuliana or nouveau bluegrass master Chris Thile renders him superior, it is the very purity of the former's work, relegated to either solo piano or an acoustic trio format, that elevates him in stature. One of 2017's best, continues that process.
Alternately regal and playful on "The Orb," the notes Fred Hersch plays on "Whisper Not" ring continuously with a bell-like clarity. Having developed a studious but not overly academic persona, Hersch's playing provokes curiosity to listen closely, creating an aura that's more inviting than off-putting. And that's no small achievement either, because with Jobim's "Singaro," as the latter aforementioned tune of Benny Golson's, Hersch is doing this as fully and completely with cover material as his own compositions.
That said, on originals such as "Through the Forest" (its images echoed in the vivid cover art) and "Plainsong," it becomes clear Fred Hersch has an instrumental vocabulary sufficient to work as fluently by himself as with his trio. He knows how to balance simplicity in such a way that allows the space(s) here to echo with the detail that otherwise furthers interaction with other musicians. Therein lies a restful quality that belies the florid detail.
Fred Hersch's Open Book begs questions of comparison with ensemble settings and almost, but not quite, renders them moot. But in combination with Alive at the Vanguard (Palmetto, 2012), Sunday Night at the Vanguard (Palmetto, 2016) and Floating (Palmetto, 2014), a trio set from the studio, the cumulative effect of this man's work, and this single title, is undeniably pleasurable on its own terms and for the estimable means by which it maintains one of the jazz genre's most beloved instrumental formats.
The Orb; Whisper Not; Zingaro; Through the Forest; Plainsong; Eronel; And So It Goes.
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