The first studio recording in four years from the Fred Hersch Trio, Floating is sequenced like the band’s live gigs. The album commences with an American standard (Dietz and Schwartz’s “You and the Night and the Music”) reimagined with the trio’s idiosyncratic, leaps-and-bounds attack, followed by a selection of originals by pianist Hersch, most dedicated to friends and colleagues. The penultimate track is a second standard, Lerner and Loewe’s “If Ever I Would Leave You,” before the band wraps up with a Monk composition, “Let’s Cool One,” bouncy and blues-drenched, with spicy shots from drummer Eric McPherson.
Ballads like the mysterious title track and the yearning “A Speech to the Sea,” named for the art installation depicted on the album’s cover, foreground Hersch’s supple pianistic approach and ever-evolving melodic vision. While there’s a touch of Debussy in Hersch’s diaphanous concepts and use of tone color, his writing also vividly connects with Americana. Hersch’s solo “West Virginia Rose” bears the simplicity of classic folk balladry, while “Home Fries” is a brisk New Orleans-style romp in tribute to trio bassist John Hébert. Hébert’s playing throughout is elegant, subtle almost to the point of subliminal.
“Far Away,” Floating<’i>’s high point, is dedicated to McPherson’s partner, Israeli pianist Shimrit Shoshan, who died of cardiac arrest in 2012 at the age of 29. Backed by McPherson’s airy cymbals and hushed-breath drum rolls, Hersch effortlessly shapes a liquid melodic line with a cry in its heart as Hébert keeps the structure down to earth lest it escape into the heavenly unknown. Here, as on the entire recording, these three musicians truly hear each other, and respond in the moment as one.