Fred Hersch Trio, Alive At The Vanguard (Palmetto)
Bop in any of its permutations would still not seem the obvious calling for a pianist who has consistently offered a working definition of elegance - his touch remains too light, his phrasing neither casual nor frenetic. But while I wouldn’t be so gauche as to suggest Hersch’s recent two month medical coma had anything to do with an improvisatory voice moving decidedly away from refinement-at-all-costs, I’m also not aware of any piece in his large repertoire that breaks with reputation in quite the same way as the funny, staggering, joyful ode to Ornette Coleman entitled “Sartorial”. Goaded on by bassist John Hebert and drummer Eric McPherson, Hersch clearly acknowledges how both engagements and recordings at New York’s most storied club immediately become part of the historical dialogue, and so the trio gamely pay tribute to titans, both in the guise of dedicatory tunes (a Paul Motian appreciation and the “Monk’s Dream” reworking “Dream Of Monk”) and in creative interpretations of jazz classics, not all obvious choices for this performer. A chestnut like Hammerstein’s “Softly, As In A Morning Sunrise” may nod explicitly to Hersch’s Vanguard precursors Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane. But a striptease stroll through Rollins’ 1954 “Doxy” and shifting tempos on Charlie Parker’s “Segment” helps direct one away from the easy Bill Evans comparisons which have unfairly dogged this performer since 1990’s Evanessence, a single album amid thirty others, after all. When the perhaps unavoidable Evans number appears midway through the first disc, “Nardis” gets appended to a mournful reading of Ornette’s landmark quasi-ballad “Lonely Woman”. Yet Hersch’s reading of a piece covered a dozen times by his supposed stylistic predecessor owes far more to the methods of original composer Miles Davis, who never once recorded it.
Igor Lumpert Trio, Innertextures Live (Clean Feed)
Young Slovenian saxophonist hooks up with a New York rhythm section for last year’s Ljubljana Festival, offering seven examples of progressive post-bop ranging from meditative (an accurately entitled “Sea Whispers”) to in-the-pocket (a cooking “Perug”), fond enough of rhythmic variation to keep an audience off balance yet clearly reveling in opportunities to lean back and swing. Credit must be given to Christopher Hardin and Nasheet Waits, respective bassist and drummer, for setting an overt groove sympathetic to Lumpert’s flights of fancy - the kind of calm exposition mere showboats would muscle right over. But Lumpert’s no showboat. He’s Eastern European goofy (“America I really like your shoes”), respectful of history (“This is for Billie Holiday”), swaggering (“Still dreaming”), generous with a melody. Plus, quirky, in the default manner common to most progressive post-bop saxophonists.
Holy Other, Held (Tri Angle)
Rounding up some of the many adjectives used to describe this vaguely Euro mystery man of dark electronica - he performs beneath a mask! and refuses to leak out his name! - suggests his marketing strategy is succeeding. “Devoid of blood,” “forbidding,” “alien,” “ghost world,” “mysterious,” “haunting,” and, most astonishingly, “a modern love album,” which is a rather presumptuous claim for a cavernous project rarely deploying the human voice in a capacity beyond chopped snippets. I’d note Burial has already cornered the mystery man market with results more mysterious and warm. I’d note we’ve been living in age of technology-driven modernity for over a century. And I’d also suggest another adjective - bombastic. Along with various synonyms thereof.