Fred Hersch and Julian Lage

Released September 3, 2013

DownBeat Five-Star Review



31-year-old guitarist Julian Lage wasn’t even alive when pianist Fred Hersch made his first appearance on a GRAMMY-nominated recording (Art Farmer’s A Work of Art, 1981), yet the duo—one a young virtuoso, the other a living jazz legend—make a well-matched pair. Hersch, whose career is now entering its fourth decade, is an exceptionally versatile and innovative player, and his improvisatory genius shines on his first recording collaboration with the young Lage, 2013’s Free Flying. Lage, though, who first came to attention as an eight-year-old prodigy playing with Carlos Santana, easily holds his own with the more experienced Hersch. Of his partner, Hersch says, “For such a young musician, [he] has an old soul, is well aware of the entirety of the jazz language and is both a musical and technical virtuoso; he is both inspired and inspiring.”

Lage’s and Hersch’s collaboration suggests a number of different eras and genres, from Johann Sebastian Bach and other 17th-century composers to bebop jazz and contemporary composition. The interplay between the two master musicians (whose instrumental combination is evocative of the ultimate Baroque keyboard instrument) creates a complex counterpoint of interweaving melodies and variations, each of the skilled improvisers inspiring the other.

Track Listing:

1. Song Without Words #4: Duet (Fred Hersch) 6:54

(Fred Hersch, Grammy Nominee for Best Improvised Jazz Solo 2014)

2. Down Home (Fred Hersch) 5:53

3. Heartland (Fred Hersch) 4:57

4. Free Flying (Fred Hersch) 5:04

5. Beatrice (Sam Rivers) 5:29

6. Song Without Words #3: Tango (Fred Hersch) 5:45

7. Stealthiness (Fred Hersch) 5:16

8. Gravity’s Pull (Fred Hersch) 7:03

9. Monk’s Dream (Thelonious Monk) 6:24


Fred Hersch: piano

Julian Lage: guitar

Recorded live at Jazz At Kitano, NYC, February 2013

Produced by Fred Hersch and Julian Lage


This one will have you turning back to the 1962 Bill Evans/Jim Hall Blue Note classic Undercurrent, or for that matter Hersch’s own collaboration with Bill Frisell, Songs We Know. But let’s leave it at that for comparisons. Except to say that again we have a piano and guitar duo album featuring two profoundly lyrical players with vast chops and imagination. There is little of the typical solo-and-accompaniment here—neither player simply comps chords or plays rhythm. Instead, there’s a constant exchange of ideas, sometimes expressed as classic counterpoint, at other times as contrasting rhythmic and melodic figures. Hersch’s opener, “Song Without Words #4: Duet,” is fast and fleet, like a Bach invention for four hands, piano and guitar running along in tandem on the theme, creating a rich contrapuntal tapestry. After this, there are more standard song forms—like Hersch’s “Down Home (For Bill Frisell),” or even Sam Rivers’ “Beatrice.” Elsewhere, you can also hear plenty of catand-mouse with scraps of melody, even call-and-response riffing (Hersch’s “Stealthiness,” “Monk’s Dream”). The disc is a relentless, excited dialogue. Hersch’s title track (for Egberto Gismonti) begins with a breathtakingly fast piano-guitar unison statement of the theme. Hersch’s left hand softly comps chords, then both players spin off into a swirling double helix of lines. Even on the relatively relaxed tempo of Hersch’s “Gravity’s Pull (For Mary Jo Salter),” where Lage takes an extended solo, Hersch’s accompaniment is an unflagging series of harmonic and rhythmic variations against the guitar line. Some might argue that the album is too busy, but that would just be nitpicking. Playing at this high a level rewards endless re-listening.

Jon Garelick (Downbeat)