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Thirteen Ways: Focus

These two trio CDs have in common drummer Gerry Hemingway and a great deal of refinement. The WHO CD features pianist Michel Wintsch and bassist Banz Oester. Though Wintsch isn’t listed as the leader on Identity, he wrote the majority of the tunes and is obviously the featured player. Wintsch probably has had considerable classical training since he has a nice, light touch, tons of facility and likes to use the upper octaves and play contrapuntally. But there are times, as on “Anna-Marie S,” when Wintsch’s work is too precious. He could stand to be less academic, and his mixing of jazz and classical devices could be more smoothly integrated. He’s thinking though, using motivic variation and development. His work on “For John Coltrane,” which has something in common with Keith Jarrett’s playing, is nicely paced and inventive. Wintsch also builds lucidly on Oester’s “Driving Home.”

Hemingway, pianist Fred Hersch and Michael Moore, on alto sax, clarinet and bass clarinet are more of a co-op trio, whose playing is marked by introspective lyricism. This group’s version of Hemingway’s “Identity,” which is the WHO trio CD’s title track, must be among the quietest recorded jazz performances. Moore’s “Focus” and Hersch’s eerily moving “Out Somewhere (Blues for Matthew Shepard)” are lovely as well. On both alto and clarinet Moore has a small, pretty, vibratoless tone. He’s a melodic player, sounding like a latter day Paul Desmond at the beginning of “Focus.” Hersch plays gracefully and even more lightly than Wintsch. He’s picked up ideas from a variety of pianists, including Monk, and blends them cohesively. Though there are spirited performances on Focus, including Moore’s bossa nova “Fim de Inverno” and Hemingway’s Monkish “En Tee,” more visceral playing from Moore and Hersch wouldn’t have hurt; at times this CD suffers from a lack of energy. But on both albums Hemingway puts on a clinic; he’s a master colorist and keeps things moving without playing loudly or stating the beat explicitly.

Originally Published