Fred Hersch: ETC & ETC Plus One

The pianist plays standards and originals on sets from 1998 and 1991 with Steve LaSpina, Jeff Hirshfield and Jerry Bergonzi

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Between 1988 and 1992 – quite early in a recording career that began in 1984 – Fred Hersch recorded three albums with bassist Steve LaSpina and drummer Jeff Hirshfield, once as the ETC trio and twice as the trio plus guests, so it was obviously a line-up that suited his style.

You can hear their affinity in their debut trio set – Fred Hersch, Steve La Spina, Jeff Hirshfield: ETC – from 1988, where they deliver an effortless, propulsive swing on each track. The album is a bit unusual for Hersch in that it does not feature any of his own works, rather some inspired modern classics with interesting arrangements. Wayne Shorter’s Black Nile is taken at fiery speed, as is Sam Jones’s cascading Unit Seven, while Miles’s All Blues is choppy and almost arhythmic in places. The Cole Porter classic Every Time We Say Goodbye is caressed rather than played, as is Easy To Love, while Frank Foster’s rarely heard Simone is a buoyant delight.

The eloquent bass lines of Steve LaSpina (note the correct contraction in the surname, not reflected on Red Records’ cover) consistently stand out on this album, his labyrinthine bass solo in Black Nile an interestingly gnarly contrast with Hersch’s fluent piano. Hirshfield is more reticent, but no less effective. Hersch of course is in fine form, his empathetic trio work always outstanding.

In contrast, Fred Hersch, Steve La Spina, Jeff Hirshfield, Jerry Bergonzi: ETC PLUS ONE from 1991 adds the bustling attack of tenor saxophonist Jerry Begonzi to the trio, and he is out of the traps from the very first note. Bergonzi is always a force of nature, and here blows with Herculean fervour throughout. Hersch responds in kind, notably on the opening and aptly titled Splurge, and contributes three strong songs – his heartfelt Evanessence an obvious nod to Bill Evans – Bergonzi and LaSpina the rest.

This is not to say that Bergonzi is unsympathetic to his surroundings, for his solo on Hersch’s retrospective Days Gone By, for example, has some considerable depth to it, as does his insistent approach on his own stop-time Hank, where LaSpina’s solo steals the show. LaSpina proves himself a fine writer, his ballad Without You one of those timeless songs you just know by heart, while Hersch proves his wit on his own Phantom Of The Bopera.

Two strong albums, both long unavailable. It’s good to have them both back again.

Discography
[ETC]: Black Nile; The Dolphin; All Blues; Every Time We Say Goodbye; Simone; Easy To Love; Unit Seven; Sometime Ago (49.43)
Hersch (p); Steve LaSpina (b); Jeff Hirshfield (d). NYC, 19 May 1988.
Red Records RR 123233-2

[ETC Plus One]: Splurge; Days Gone By; Once More; Hank; Without You; Phantom Of The Bopera; Evanessence; April Nights; Conclusive Evidence; Splurge tk 2 (70.28)
Hersch, LaSpina, Hirshfield, plus Jerry Bergonzi (ts). NYC, 15 March 1991.
Red Records RR 123249-2