Anat Cohen / Fred Hersch - Live in Healdsburg

Label: Anzic Records, 2018

Personnel - Anat Cohen: clarinet; Fred Hersch: piano.

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On their debut duo record, world-class instrumentalists Anat Cohen and Fred Hersch, clarinetist and pianist, respectively, included originals and carefully selected repertoire, whose variety enriches sonic possibilities as it supplements their creative vein. This intimate recording session was part of the 2016 Healdsburg Jazz Festival's lineup and comes in the sequence of very personal works recently put out by the two artists - Cohen gathered a skillful tentet to bring Happy Song (Anzic, 2017) to life, while Hersch orchestrated the enchanting Open Book (Palmetto, 2017) alone at a piano.

Produced by Cohen’s longtime musical partner Oded Lev-Ari, Live in Healdsburg starts with two compositions by Hersch. The opener, “A Lark”, which first appeared on the album Trio +2 (Palmetto, 2004), has the affectionate melody outlined by the clarinet, sliding over chord changes or ever-changing textures. Spinning with as much pleasure as free abandonment, Hersch, mostly conducting his accompaniment over the mid and high registers, achieves a further grandiosity whenever he hits the supporting bass notes. 

The duo's gentleness continues on the following piece. “Child’s Song” holds a rubato piano introduction that takes us to a 6/4 tempo put on hold by a staccato pianism. Brief pedals are combined with folk and classical movements in a middle passage that sometimes feels enigmatic without losing the sweetness of tone.

Cohen also shows to be a serious connoisseur and adept of the jazz tradition on her waltzing, classical-tinged “The Purple Piece”. Although she rarely explored rhythmic ideas that go beyond the expected on the weightless rendition of Billy Strayhorn’s “Isfahan”, her improvisation was fantastic on Hersch's bebop-inspired “Lee’s Dream”, a tune harmonically based on “You Stepped Out of a Dream” that served to honor saxophonist Lee Konitz. Still, the true emotions were left to “The Peacocks”, where the clarinet digs deep into the essence of our soul. Bill Evan’s interpretation of this tune might be insuperable, but this ego-less duet also captures and exposes the grandeur of the piece based on a flawless instrumental alliance.

After Fats Waller’s emblematic “Jitterbug Waltz”, here re-invented with a playful intro from piano, expressive musical smiles, and loose-limbed interplay with some rhythmic wallops, the recording comes to an end with the amicable serenity of Ellington’s classic “Mood Indigo”.

Inspiring each other and divinely ingratiated by their natural talent and musical sophistication, Cohen and Hersch make effortless music. This cute live recording, warmly temperate and melodic, makes for a pleasant listen.

        Grade  B

        Grade B

Favorite tunes: 
01 – A Lark ► 05 – Lee’s Dream ► 06 – The Peacocks


Fred Hersch - Open Book

Label/Year: Palmetto Records, 2017

Lineup - Fred Hersch: piano.

Open Book is another wonderful opportunity to get in touch with the compelling and always emotional music of Fred Hersch, an established pianist who, playing solo, presents three originals and four selected covers of disparate nature.

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The gifted musician confesses in the booklet notes of his 11th solo release that what gives him more pleasure lately is sitting down at the piano and let it flow to see what happens. That’s exactly the sensation we got when this record is spinning. It starts by conveying a delicate intimacy in its opening tune, “The Orb”, an original and very personal composition whose touching lyricism is freed by the magic touch of his fingers as he couples melodic and harmonic richness. Everything is surrounded by a glorious sense of dreaming.
 
Plainsong” is another original composition that reflects this state of melancholy, generating an idyllic crossing between jazz and classical genres. Its structure has nothing to do with “Through the Forest”, a ruminative 19-minute free improvisation that explores imaginary paths and trails of a secret forest. There are amazement, abstracted reverie, and dazzle in the depiction, but also mystery and an intermittent tension that is mostly created by the deep-sounding chords unhooked with the left hand.

Jobim’s “Zingaro”, also known as “Portrait in Black and White”, shows up with a heavenly aura, carrying all that crushing sentiment in the beautiful melody and harmonic progression.

Benny Golson’s classic “Whisper Not” is dissected with wisdom and perceptiveness, and then reconstructed with adventurous melodic counterpoint and ruling staccato voicings that, in an early stage, difficult the perception of which tune we are listening to. The main melody only becomes clearly discernible when we reach the final shout chorus.

In turn, Monk’s “Eronel" theme is delivered when most expected. Holding on to its natural bop gaiety, Hersch’s rendition exerts inventive rhythmic variations, stout phrases enriched with exciting passage notes, and attractive motifs. It diverges from Billy Joel’s lyric poem “And So It Goes”, which, interpreted with elegance, closes the album with a romantic touch.

As a curiosity, the previous solo album by Fred Hersch, precisely entitled Solo, also included one Jobim and one Monk song, and closed with a pop/rock piece, in the case, Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides, Now”. Regardless the observation, Open Book is another story and a wonderful one, replete with fantastic moments that should be enough to make you exploring it with no reservations.

        Grade  A

        Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
01 – The Orb ► 02 - Whisper Not ► 04 - Through the Forest 


Fred Hersch Trio - Sunday Night At the Vanguard

Fred Hersch: piano; John Hébert: double bass; Eric McPherson: drums.

Fred Hersch, a pianist of elaborate momentum, makes of the diversity his best weapon in “Sunday Nigh at the Vanguard”, recorded live in the most celebrated jazz venue in New York, in the company of the explorative bassist John Hébert and the tremendously adaptable Eric McPherson, who occupied the drummer’s chair.
The inspired melodies and harmonic textures of the pianist combine seamlessly with the throbbing grooves generated by the empathic rhythm section, ending up in curious dialogues that are more concordant than contentious.
Shedding a gentle lyricism, the proficient trio dabbles in a variety of styles. “A Cockeyed Optimist” is the typical jazz standard, “Serpentine” let us feel a strong classical influence, “The Optimum Thing” is a bop-colored tune, “Calligram is an avant-gardish delight dedicated to Benoit Delbecq, “Blackwing Palomino” is a post-bop incursion with rhythmic nuances, McCartney’s “For No One” takes the form of a ballad, Kenny Wheeler’s “Everybody’s Song But My Own” is a gripping exuberance, the weepy “The Peacocks” is naturally impactful, and Monk’s mood is completely identifiable in “Wee See”, here enhanced with some radical rhythmic variations.

Favorite Tracks:
04 – Calligram ► 07 – Everybody’s Song But My Own  08 – The Peacocks