Over the course of the last decade, Fred Hersch has rightfully risen to prominence as one of the premiere jazz artists in the world. Not coincidentally, most of his activity has taken place in the company of his trio including bassist John Hebert and drummer Eric McPherson, so it only stands to reason the pianist/composer would choose to highlight his work over this period in 10 Years/6 Discs. The set documents Hersch’s work with the threesome in the studio and on stage, in doing so depicting exactly how this artistic ascension has taken place: through a combination of dignity, ingenuity and generosity of spirit. The ultra-slimline design of the box, including original artwork on the CD sleeves plus a twelve-page booklet with notes from Hersch himself), reflects not only the depth and breadth of the writing and playing within, but also the chemistry at the heart of the threesome’s enduring camaraderie.
Whirl (2010): Whirl begs comparison with other piano trio ensemble settings, such as Brad Mehldau’s, but ultimately renders them moot through the singular formality of the Hersch’s approach. Furthermore, this trio set from the studio reaffirms the cumulative effect of this bandleader’s work prior to the formation of this estimable unit. Meanwhile, the mix of material also serves to point up Hersch’s distinction as a composer of tunes like this titlesong (all of which are pleasures on their own terms too): the inclusion of covers like Paul Motian’s “Blue Midnight” reminds how Fred no doubt learned to write stately, deceptively playful material.
Alive at the Vanguard 2CD (2012): This Fred Hersch Trio’s initial live set from the hallowed New York venue features a near two-hour long compilation of fifteen tracks. It’s an extraordinarily deft intermingling of standards, classic jazz compositions and original pieces wherein the threesome balance its skill(s) at interpretation with an equally engrossing exposition of their improvisational sense. What is even more remarkable in hearing this double set now, in the context of this box, is learning how the ensemble has continued to grow over the years: they are constantly reinventing their relationship(s), particularly in terms of how to anticipate each others’ ideas, no matter from whom they originate.
Floating (2014): This studio set reaffirms that the Fred Hersch Trio has been conjuring indelible impressions of unity on listeners for years now in the studio as well as in concert. But this recording proves that the base level of subtlety with which this pianist plays has long been far higher than most of his contemporaries, both on his chosen instrument and in his intricate interactions with his gifted bandmates: the bassist and drummer assume the tone set by their otherwise humble leader. Little surprise the level of nuance is increases exponentially over time as this lineup continues to grow the longer it remains together.
Sunday Night at the Vanguard (2016): Fred Hersch has an instrumental vocabulary sufficient to work as fluently by himself as with his trio—see 2015’s Solo also on Palmetto Records– and here he displays an eclectic breadth in his choice of material that is in direct proportion to his technique. Whether playing Monk or McCartney, he knows how to create a balance between the space(s) and the detail that constantly prompts interplay with Hebert and McPherson. And even when the three are most deeply engaged in dense action, at its heart lies a restful simplicity that belies its florid detail: what in another setting might sound busy here radiates tranquility.
Live in Europe (2018): This is a sterling encapsulation of the Fred Hersch Trio’s musicianship. Six of the tunes are originals, while the other four of the ten are challenging pieces: two each by Wayne Shorter (“Miyako,” Black Nile”) and Thelonious Monk (“We See,” “Blue Monk”). And what is most fascinating in hearing all this is also what’s most engrossing: the expanse of the playing is as open-ended as the choice(s) of song. Such a seamless exposition of soul and precision can derive from practice and habit (to an extent), but ultimately crystallizes from a natural bond the extraordinary likes of which these three kindred spirits display.