JJ 02/91: Fred Hersch – Heartsongs

Thirty years ago, Derek Ansell thought Fred Hersch's trio closer to Bill Evans than the leader acknowledged. First published in Jazz Journal February 1991


These three obviously enjoy working together and as leader Hersch says the group never play anything that all of them ‘don’t feel good about’.

However, I can’t agree with Mr Hersch when he says that he doesn’t play like Bill Evans. He does, almost uncannily so at times; the delicate touch, the gentle introspection and wistful ballad – it is all there. And there are occasions when bassist Mike Formanek sounds like a reincar­nation of the late Scott La Faro. Drummer Jeff Hirshfield keeps in the background, sounding on slower numbers – dare I say it – like Paul Motian. But he cuts loose on the up tempos and adds exuberant fire to the proceed­ings.

Paradoxically, the Evans influ­ence is most strong where you would least expect it; for exam­ple The Man I Love and Wayne Shorter’s Fall and not as marked on an obvious valediction to the master such as Evanessence. There are also finely wrought and imaginatively constructed solos on Monk’s I Mean You and Ornette Coleman’s The Sphinx with Formanek weaving gorgeous lines around the piano and Hirschfield swinging lightly and brightly.

Free For Three is a sumptuous exercise in free playing that has, unlike some, form and structure and emphasises the fully integrated trio to good effect.

This is expertly played, imagi­native jazz but the leader would do well to acknowledge openly the obvious source of his own inspiration.

The Man I Love; Fall; Lullabye; Free For Three; Heartsong; Infant Eyes; Beam Me Up; I Mean You; Evanessence; Rain Waltz; The Sphinx (59.32)
Fred Hersch (p); Mike Formanek (b); Jeff Hirschfield (d). New York City. Dec 4 & 5 1989.
(Sunnyside SSC 1047D)