Fred Hersch, Floating

Fred Hersch's Floating (on the Palmetto label) is his strongest album in a decade (you'd have to go back to his 2006 solo disc, In Amsterdam: Live at the Bimhuis, to match the energy) and maybe his strongest trio album ever.

Yes, I said the same thing about Alive at the Vanguard, his double-disc live-trio set, which was released just two years ago, but Floating tops it. A studio session recorded by James Farber and mastered by Mark Wilder (two of the best in the business), it might also be Hersch's best-sounding album: percussive, lush, spacious, and tight, all at once.

In 2008 (as I'm sure he's tired of being reminded again and again), Hersch fell into a nearly fatal coma. Upon awakening, he could barely walk and had to re-learn how to play the piano. His next couple of albums, while familiarly lyrical and very good by most standards, lacked the fluency and exuberance of his finest records. Alive at the Vanguard was the first album that presented him fully back in form, and Floating shows him toning up.

The first track, a tango-lilted "You & the Night & the Music," is a heady display of two-handed counterpoint. The title track, "Autumn Haze," and a Shirley Horn-ishly slow cover of "If Ever I Would Leave You" are basking ballads, knife-sharpened by unexpected chords and haunting filigree. There's nothing soft or mellow about any of this; Hersch coaxes the keys with a muscular touch.

The trio—which plays July 15-20 at New York City's Village Vanguard—includes bassist John Hebert and drummer Eric McPherson, who provide the proper ballast. Without any disrespect towards them, I would like to hear an album that features Hersch with Dave Holland and Billy Hart. I saw that trio play at the Jazz Standard two years ago, and the ensemble work was stunning. Holland and Hart both record on the ECM label. How about it, ECM's Tina Pelikan?

Allen Fant's picture

Thanks! for sharing.