Fred Hersch Trio, Live In Europe (Palmetto)
Hersch opens his new trio album with Thelonious Monk’s “We See” and closes it with an unaccompanied performance of “Blue Monk.” A longtime source of inspiration for the pianist, bassist John Hébert and drummer Eric McPherson, Monk seems to trigger renewed stimulation and interaction whenever they play his compositions. In “We See,” Hersch maintains a flow of stimulating ideas even as he fragments the melody line that he develops so brilliantly. Hersch’s “Newklypso,” a tribute to Sonny Rollins, builds on the saxophonist’s devotion to the calypso music of his Caribbean ancestry. Hersch dedicates “Bristol Fog” to the late British pianist John Taylor, and the languorous, quirky, blues “The Big Easy” to New Orleans writer Tom Piazza. The album was recorded in concert in Brussels, Belgium. Six Hirsch compositions and two Wayne Shorter pieces, “Miyako” and “Black Nile,” complete the collection and help make it one of the trio’s most satisfying in their nine years together.
Miles Davis & John Coltrane, The Final Tour: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 6 (Columbia Legacy)
The music on this album was tenor saxophonist John Coltrane’s 1960 farewell to the Miles DavisQuintet, and whatever you’ve heard about it is probably true. Yes, Coltrane was breaking away from Davis conceptually, headed toward his “Giant Steps” reinvention of himself. Yes, at times he indulges his every random musical thought in displays of concentrated energy, perhaps even unto the anger his critics accused him of during this transition (Coltrane denied using his music to express anger). Yes, pianist Wynton Kelly, bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Jimmy Cobb are at a peak of the heated swing that made them the gold standard of mainstream rhythm sections in the late 1950s and early ‘60s. Yes, these concerts in Paris, Copenhagen and Stockholm radiate the tension generated by Coltrane’s disgruntlement with Davis’s music and, no doubt, with his inability, under the circumstances, to find his own way.
In the Paris “Bye Bye Blackbird,” Coltrane adopts Davis’s lyricism before moving into complexity just short of indecipherability. In the Copenhagen and Stockholm performances of “All Blues,” Coltrane’s fluidity is remarkable even as—particularly in Stockholm—he cranks up the intensity before yielding to Kelly’s vision of pure beauty. Through all four CDs in the package, it is rewarding to hear Kelly, Cobb and Chambers as individuals and in the surging undercurrents they develop as a section. This is one of the great small bands in all of music. Davis himself does some of his most affecting playing, and it is gripping to hear Coltrane finding his way through the transition to his next phase.
Scott Hamilton, Swedish Ballads…& More (Charleston Square)
When so many albums arrive for possible review, there is always the possibility that a worthy one will end up in a music room nook or cranny, only to be rediscovered much later. That’s what happened to this 2012 gem. Tenor saxophonist Hamilton teamed with a world-class Scandinavian rhythm section for a collection of seven Swedish songs. It begins with “Ack Värmeland Du Skona,” long known outside of Sweden as “Dear Old Stockholm,” thanks to recordings by Stan Getz and Miles Davis. Hamilton also makes his unruffled way through, among other pieces, Ulf Sandström’s “You Can’t Be In Love With A Dream,” Ole Adolphson’s “Trubbel” and the Quincy Jones classic “Stockholm Sweetnin’,” which has Hamilton at his most vigorous. Pianist Jan Lundgren, bassist Jesper Lundgaard and drummer Kristian Leth support him with great sensitivity and—no surprise—authenticity. Hamilton gives a tender reading to “Min soldat” (“My Soldier”), a song popular in Sweden in the 1940s and revived in the 1970s when it was used in a TV series. The late Swedish pianist Jan Johansson’s “Blues i oktaver” wraps up the album. It includes a terrific solo by Lundgren, then a witty exchange of phrases between Hamilton and Lundgren, who is an admirer of and successor to Johansson. Lundgren contributes helpful liner notes.