Pianist Fred Hersch and guitarist Julian Lage are similarly masterful players and likeminded souls. Though primarily jazz improvisers, they share affinities for new collaborations, classical forms and soft yet intense dynamics. If they’re more than a generation apart in age, no matter. “For such a young musician,” Hersch writes in his album notes, “Julian has an old soul, is well aware of the entirety of the jazz language and is both a musical and technical virtuoso; he is both inspired and inspiring.”
Their extraordinary new live recording, Free Flying, stems from a chance meeting in a coffee shop in Boston, a city in which both men have studied and taught. Private sessions led to their performing as a duo this past February at New York City’s Jazz at Kitano, where the program included seven Hersch compositions, most recorded at least once previously and five dedicated to artists he holds dear. The title track, for Egberto Gismonti, features a sprightly, infectious melody that gives way to intricate improvised counterpoint that seems as inspired by Bach as by Gismonti. The opening track, “Song Without Words #4: Duet,” calls Bach to mind even more; Lage stays in the background until taking the lead about three minutes in, as Hersch shifts to contrapuntal comping. “Heartland,” for Art Lande, is another with a classical feel, but slower and more pensive.
Pieces dedicated to guitarists—“Down Home,” for Bill Frisell, and “Stealthiness,” for Jim Hall—are jazzier standouts. “Down Home,” first recorded on Fred Hersch Trio +2, has a folky edge to it despite Hersch’s occasionally stride-like left hand. “Stealthiness” provokes Lage’s most bravura performance. Rounding out the set are exquisite covers of jazz classics by Sam Rivers (“Beatrice”) and Thelonious Monk (“Monk’s Dream”).