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Fred Hersch: Sarabande

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Sarabande is a straight-up reissue of one of Fred Hersch’s first recordings, and it features the pianist in a trio setting with bassist Charlie Haden and drummer Joey Baron in 1986. Re-releasing the nine-track set sans bonus tracks or any other embellishments, save for a brief essay by Hersch, doesn’t do much on the surface to elevate its importance within Hersch’s canon, but seemingly that wasn’t the intent: What that essay makes clear is that Hersch truly relished the opportunity to work so early in his career with Haden, who died in 2014, and that he’d like that meeting to be reconsidered now. It should be. It’s an outstanding effort.

The disc includes three Hersch originals, three Songbook standards and three jazz tunes, from Jimmy Rowles (“The Peacocks”), Ornette Coleman (“Enfant”) and Bill Evans/Miles Davis (“Blue in Green”). The Coleman tune in particular is dazzling: At a dizzying tempo, Hersch and Haden tease the theme but rarely clamp down on it, instead challenging one another into new directions seemingly every few seconds. Two-thirds in, Hersch drops out for a bit (to catch his breath?), leaving Haden and Baron to reconsider where they want to go with this thing before easing back in to remind them of where it started. The numerous transitions are masterfully navigated, and trying to keep up with the tune as a listener is immensely satisfying.

Not everything here is quite so frenetic or audacious. Among Hersch’s originals, “Child’s Song” is the most prominent showcase for both Haden’s ceaseless wanderlust and the pianist’s melodicism, while Arthur Freed/Harry Warren’s “This Heart of Mine” makes a good case for Hersch as unheralded swinger-and features Baron at his most lyrical. In all it’s a well-rounded, expertly played session that serves retroactively as both a reminder of Hersch’s early maturity and a tribute to Haden.

Originally Published