Fred Hersch Trio, Heartsongs (Sunnyside)
Sunnyside’s reissue of Hersch’s 1989 sessions reminds us how impressive the pianist was in his recording debut as a leader at the age of 34. Following success as a sideman with Woody Herman, Art Farmer, Jane Ira Bloom, Stan Getz and others, Hersch’s keyboard touch, harmonic savvy and rhythmic assurance showed that he had become a major player. Beyond that, his interaction with bassist Michael Formanek and drummer Jeff Hirshfiield established that he was in full flight as a wise leader.
Hersch’s leadership wisdom is further confirmed in his choice of songs. In addition to his own title tune and his Bill Evan tribute “Evanessence,” now virtually a jazz standard, the trio performs perfectly integrated versions of pieces by Wayne Shorter, Thelonious Monk and Ornette Coleman. There is a glorious treatment of Gershwin’s “The Man I Love.” Hersch’s senses of timing and humor show up in the trio’s abrupt ending of Shorter’s “Fall” and in his “Beam Me Up,” with its abstract piano interjections and the energy and inventiveness of Hirshfield’s drumming. For Hersch devotees, the re-release of this important chapter in his development is a windfall.
McClenty Hunter, Jr. The Groove Hunter (strikezone)
Drummer Hunter’s album brings together trumpeter Eddie Henderson, alto saxophonist Donald Harrison, guitarist Dave Stryker and pianist Eric Reed, among other prominent members of the New York jazz scene. The atmosphere may recall certain aspects of Art Blakey’s post-bop groups, but Hunter’s drumming has a distinct personality. Memorable moments include Reed’s fleet piano on “Blue Chopsticks,” a seldom-performed Herbie Nichols composition. Other highlights: Hunter’s compelling solo introduction to John Coltrane’s “Countdown” at a blistering tempo, and Stryker’s reflective guitar in another rarity, the late Gary McFarland’s “Sack Full Of Dreams.” Listeners discovering Hunter by way of this variegated album are likely to find him a welcome surprise.
Roberto Magris and The MUH Trio, Prague After Dark (JMood)
MUH is the trio acronym of Italian pianist Magris and two veteran Czech jazz stars, bassist Frantisek Uhlir and drummer Jaromir Helesic. They offer a stimulating variety of pieces that, like the Hunter McLenty album mentioned above, include a Herbie Nichols composition, in this case “The Third World.” If the inclusion of these pieces indicates that Nichols’ invaluable recordings may make a comeback, it’s a healthy sign. Uhlir’s solo on Magris’s title tune is typical of the bassist’s virtuosity. His tone and facility place him among the instrument’s leading players. Uhlir’s arco work on his piece called “From Heart To Heart” is a textbook example of what a bowed bass can accomplish in the hands of a conservatory-trained player, but there is nothing academic about Uhlir’s emotional content. A triptych of Magris compositions follows, the lively “Song For An African Child” leading the way, “A Summer’s Kiss,” as tender as the title suggests, and “Iraqui Blues” developing a distinctly Middle Eastern rhythmic thrust over major/minor harmonies. Judiciously placed harmonic seconds and fast keyboard runs give spice to the trio’s take on Jerome Kern’s standard “In Love In Vain,” wrapping up one of Magris’s finest albums. Hearing him with Uhlir and Helesic constitutes a bonus.
Joshua Redman and three others, Still Dreaming (Nonesuch)
The title evokes Old And New Dreams, the group that tenor saxophonist Joshua Redman’s
father Dewey formed in the 1970s to follow the precepts of avant garde pioneer Ornette Coleman. Redman, cornetist Ron Miles, bassist Scott Colley and drummer Brian Blade hew to Coleman’s principles—or non-principles—of freedom from conventional jazz rules. They do it faithfully, with satisfying creativity that Coleman would no doubt have smiled upon. However, to quote the title of one of Redman’s pieces, “It’s Not The Same” because these are four individualists with their own visions and if they have observed the Coleman spirit, they have done i taking into account all that has happened in music since Coleman’s ascendancy six decades ago. Most important, they sound as if they’re having a great time. Listening to them the third time through the CD, so is this listener.
Louis Armstrong, Pops Is Tops (Verve)
This four-CD set is subtitled, The Verve Studio Albums. You can take that designation literally—and then some. With alternate takes, breakdowns, false starts and rehearsals, the set totals 71 tracks. Just imagine, as one example, six runs at “Willow Weep For Me” before you reach Armstrong’s majestic master take of that great Ann Ronnell song. The Armstrong LPs of this music were I’ve Got The World On A String, Louis Under The Stars, Louis Armstrong Meets Oscar Peterson and A Day With Satchmo. If you have held onto the LPs all these years and enjoyed them, congratulations on your farsightedness and taste. If you are a newcomer to this great man’s art, the Verve set is a marvelous way to get to know him. Then you can work your way back to his days with King Oliver, his Hot Fives and Hot Sevens from the late 1920s, his incomparable 1932 “Stardust” and all the rest up to and beyond “Hello, Dolly.” For now, I’m going to listen for the sixth time in a row to Pops singing and playing the Gershwins’ “I Was Doing All Right” with Oscar Peterson’s trio and drummer Louis Bellson. Armstrong’s trumpet introduction won’t let me put the album away.