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Fred Hersch/Michael Moore/Gerry Hemingway: Thirteen Ways

Thirteen Ways is the most engaging album Fred Hersch has led or co-led since his ’84 JMT duet disc with Jane Ira Bloom, As One. His celebrated introspection and lyricism has a tendency to be a bit precious if not leavened by the jocularity and probity that clarinet/alto saxophonist Michael Moore and percussionist Gerry Hemingway bring to the table (Moore and Hemingway’s duo track, “Steel And Clarinet,” featuring Hemingway’s steel drums, is a useful gauge).

Subsequently, on this diverse, well-paced program, Hersch not only delivers the expected heart-peeling balladry (his own “Calm”) and buoyant standards-bearing (“Speak Low” and “Star Eyes”), but cogently digs into some off-center compositions, as well. The most challenging of these is Hersch’s evocative 16-minute title piece, comprised of 13 loosely-structured improvisations that mirror the sections of the Wallace Stevens poem, “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.” It is an absorbing work that taps the ambiguous, often dark undercurrents of the text.

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