Live in Europe (Palmetto Records)
Fred Hersch Trio
Released April 25, 2018
Grammy Nominee for Best Jazz Instrumental Album 2019
Through more than 30 years and five incarnations, the Fred Hersch Trio has remained at the pinnacle of modern jazz, venerated as the epitome of thrilling interplay and dynamic spontaneity. The Wall Street Journal calls the trio “one of the major ensembles of our time,” while The New Yorker has applauded it for playing with “high lyricism and high danger.” The current trio, in which renowned pianist Fred Hersch is joined by bassist John Hébert and drummer Eric McPherson, kicked off its tenth year together in the summer of 2018. In less than a decade, the three have released six acclaimed albums, garnering two Grammy nominations and countless accolades. The trio was voted the #2 Jazz Group in the 2018 DownBeat Critics Poll, recognizing its unique ability to traverse a wide range of styles and approaches while maintaining profound depths of emotion and the exhilarating spark of invention. The trio’s latest release, Live in Europe (Palmetto), has been hailed as its best to date, considerable praise for an ensemble that consistently plays at such a staggeringly high level. The album, essentially, is lightning in a bottle; it documents one remarkable evening that just happened to be captured. Collecting six Hersch originals and two stellar compositions apiece from jazz giants Thelonious Monk and Wayne Shorter, Live in Europe was recorded at Flagey Studio 4 in Brussels’ former National Institute for Radio Broadcasting on the penultimate night of the trio’s three-week European tour in November 2017. All About Jazz awarded the album 5 stars, while DownBeat’s 4 star review lauded, “Improvisation doesn’t engage the listener any more playfully than this.” Hersch, Hébert and McPherson came together in 2009, shortly after the pianist’s recovery from a medically-induced coma. The trio’s debut release, Whirl (2010), met with wide acclaim, reestablishing Hersch as one of the music’s premier artists following his lifethreatening illness. The trio’s follow-up, Alive at the Vanguard (2012), received a 4 ½ star review in DownBeat, and 2014’s studio recording Floating was nominated for two 2104 Grammy Awards – for Best Jazz Album and Best Improvised Solo. A return to the Village Vanguard for 2016’s Sunday Night at the Vanguard netted another pair of Grammy nominations, again for Best Jazz Album and Best Improvised Solo. Prior to working with Hersch, Hébert and McPherson had served as legendary pianist Andrew Hill’s final rhythm section. The near-telepathic communion formed during that experience has enhanced their work with the very different Hersch, whose restlessly eclectic tastes often lead the trio from tightly-constructed compositions to freewheeling improvisatory ventures, hushed balladry to lively playfulness, boisterous swing to crystalline angularity. They’ve honed their magical chemistry on stages around the world, from New York’s iconic Village Vanguard to major venues and elite festivals in Europe, Asia, and the United States. A select member of jazz’s piano pantheon, Fred Hersch is a pervasively influential creative force who has shaped the music’s course over more than three decades as an improviser, composer, educator, bandleader, collaborator and recording artist. A twelvetime Grammy Award nominee, he has earned an impressive number of the music world’s most prestigious awards, including recent distinctions as a 2016 Doris Duke Artist, 2016 and 2018 Jazz Pianist of the Year from the Jazz Journalists Association and the 2017 Prix in Honorem de Jazz from L’Acádemie Charles Cros for the totality of his career. Hersch’s memoir, Good Things Happen Slowly, was published in September 2017 by Crown Archetype Books/Random House. It was featured in the Sunday New York Times and on NPR’s “Fresh Air,” was named one of 2017’s Five Best Memoirs by the Washington Post and The New York Times, and was named 2018 Book on Jazz of the Year by the Jazz Journalists Association. The feature documentary The Ballad of Fred Hersch premiered at the prestigious Full Frame Film Festival in March 2016 to a sold-out house and is now streaming on Vimeo. A native of New Orleans, John Hébert attended Loyola University before moving to the New York area in 1993, where he quickly established himself as a highly sought after bassist. He has worked alongside such renowned artists as Andrew Hill, Lee Konitz, Paul Bley, John Abercrombie, Kenny Wheeler, Paul Motian, Joe Maneri, Mary Halvorson, Tomasz Stanko, David Liebman, Uri Caine, Greg Osby, Bill Stewart, Marc Copland, Toots Thielemans, Maria Schneider, and many others. In recent years, Hébert has taken on the role of bandleader of various projects. His group Byzantine Monkey received a 4 star review from DownBeat for its 2009 debut, and the John Hébert Trio (with French pianist Benoit Delbecq and drummer Gerald Cleaver) has released two well-received albums on Clean Feed Records. Hébert’s latest release, Rambling Confessions (Sunnyside) features vocalist Jen Shyu, pianist Andy Milne and drummer Billy Drummond and was awarded 4.5 stars by DownBeat. A native of New York City, Eric McPherson began studying with master drummer Michael Carvin at the age of 12. He would go on to study with alto legend Jackie McLean at the University of Hartford’s Hartt School of Music. While still a student, McPherson came to international prominence playing professionally and recording with this extraordinary saxophonist and educator. He would later go on to work and record with the innovative pianist and composer Andrew Hill. Learning from these seminal figures, he has developed a highly personal and creative approach to music. Over the last 25 years, McPherson has produced, recorded, engineered and toured worldwide with his own projects and collaborations and has worked with a wide array of today’s leading contemporary creative musicians. An educator himself, McPherson continues the legacy left to him whether teaching private students or conducting master classes and workshops. He is also on the Jazz Studies Faculty at the University of Hartford’s Hartt School / Jackie McLean Jazz Studies Division and at The New School in NYC.
1. We See (Thelonious Monk) 5:51
(Fred Hersch, Grammy Nominee for Best Improvised Jazz Solo 2018)
2. Snape Maltings (Fred Hersch) 7:23
3. Scuttlers (Fred Hersch) 2:39
4. Skipping (Fred Hersch) 4:48
5. Bristol Fog (For John Taylor) (Fred Hersch) 8:25
6. Newklypso (For Sonny Rollins) (Fred Hersch) 8:40
7. The Big Easy (For Tom Piazza) (Fred Hersch) 6:56
8. Miyako (Wayne Shorter) 7:10
9. Black Nile (Wayne Shorter) 6:43
10. Blue Monk [Solo Encore] Thelonious Monk 5:16
Fred Hersch: piano
John Hebert: bass
Eric McPherson: drums
Recorded November 24, 2017, at Flagey Studio 4, Brussels, Belgium
Producer: Fred Hersch
Mixing: Rick Kwan
Engineer: Stef Lenaerts
Mastering: Mark Wilder
Photography: John Abbott
Graphic Design: Christopher Drukker
For the past few years, pianist Fred Hersch has been releasing CDs with a regularity that would make them feel routine if the music wasn’t always so good. This new one is another live effort featuring his long standing trio with John Hébert and Eric McPherson, this time recorded in Brussels. As usual, it’s excellent.
This time around there are two selections each by Wayne Shorter and Thelonious Monk but the balance of the compositions played are Hersch originals. Monk’s “We See” kicks things off, progressing through sudden stops, tempo shifts and spaced single notes over McPherson’s sparse drum ticking and Hebert’s woozy bass. Then the program shifts to Hersch’s intriguing variety of tunes, which point out how underrated he is as a composer. “Snape Maltings” is a drunken minuet with erratic classical trills that sounds close to Carla Bley’s early writing. On “Scuttlers” rattling drumsticks and drips of piano and bass interweave before Hersch starts stringing notes together into swift single line runs. “Skipping” expands the percussive approach of the previous tune into a lightly prancing melody Hersch plays with a light touch that sounds like Bill Evans brushing his fingertips over the keys. Hersch’s other pieces are heavier on melody. “Bristol Fog,” dedicated to the late British pianist John Taylor, is a lovely, sensitive ballad played gracefully and intricately. “Newklypso,” dedicated to Sonny Rollins, is a bouncy calypso with a deep bass pulse underlining Hersch’s frisky piano and McPherson’s chattering drums that eventually climaxes in a showy drum solo. “The Big Easy” is a genteel saunter into the atmosphere of New Orleans. Hersch’s piano unwinds along a courtly blues groove, trailing echoes of Monk and Allen Toussaint.
The two Wayne Shorter pieces further display how well the trio works together. “Miyako” starts out a gentle romantic stroll with piano winding around the rhythm section, slowly increasing speed. Hersch’s exploration of the melody becomes a surging wave of sound but the bass and drums keep the original carefree mood in place. After an extended drum intro, “Black Nile” stabs and slides with hard-charging energy, Hersch again showing his dexterity and imagination while Hebert and McPherson give him a steady base to work from. Finally, on a solo encore of “Blue Monk,” Hersch plays with the tune like a cat with a ball of yarn, worrying over some phrases and repeating or stumbling over others, walking a seemingly random path that actually has the eccentric precision and logic of a Gene Kelly dance routine.
It’s been said a million times but it’s still true. Fred Hersch is one of the finest pianists working today. When he and his trio are as engaged as they sound here, nobody can touch them. Even by Hersch’s high standards, this is one of his best recent recordings.
Jerome Wilson (All About Jazz)