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Fred Hersch/Bill Frisell: Songs We Know

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It was inevitable that these labelmates meet. Two superb interpreters, Hersch and Frisell bring their highly evolved and personal vocabularies to bear on a program of jazz standards from the great American songbook. The results are sublime, witty, and wonderful, well beyond the pale of your run-of-the-mill standards set.

The obvious comparison here is the classic duets of Jim Hall and Bill Evans (1959’s Undercurrents and 1966’s Intermodulation). While both players share a reverence for Hall and Evans, their collaboration here is more in the out-on-a-limb spirit of Chick Corea and Bobby McFerrin on Play. Frisell and Hersch don’t accompany each other in a traditional sense so much as meld together into one inspired voice. This artistic intertwining, in which they anticipate and complete each other’s statements so matter-of-factly that it seems like second nature, is perhaps best demonstrated on a delicate rendition of “Someday My Prince Will Come” and a buoyant, fugue-like approach to “Softly as in a Morning Sunrise.” Both are also inveterate romantics, as they so unashamedly demonstrate on lovely renditions of “My One and Only Love” and “It Might as Well Be Spring.”

But there is also a slightly twisted side to this duo. Their take on “Blue Monk” is suitably irreverent, full of odd parrying and thrusting figures and imbued with a sense of playfulness. They push the envelope quite a bit on radical reinterpretations of “What Is This Thing Called Love?” and “There Is No Greater Love.” Their effervescent interpretation of Charlie Parker’s “My Little Suede Shoes” is balanced by a darkly introspective reading of Jerome Kern’s “Yesterdays.” And they treat George & Ira Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm” somewhat like “Dueling Banjos,” only coyly alluding to the sprightly swinging romp the tune has come to be known as.

Frisell fans will be especially interested to hear the guitarist sans effects. Without his signature looping devices and other electronic effects, he has to resort to what’s left-his graceful touch, great ears, uncanny sense of empathy, and his brilliant melodic invention. And Hersch is definitely in that number.