[JPL] Meeting of Jazz Minds Is a Four-Hand Conversation in Harmony

r durfee rdurfee2003 at yahoo.com
Thu Sep 6 15:13:38 EDT 2007

September 6, 2007
Music Review
Meeting of Jazz Minds Is a Four-Hand Conversation in
As an interaction between musicians, jazz is often
characterized as a conversation. That analogy, however
fanciful or imprecise, finds a clear illustration in
duo-piano performance. Here the stage is set for an
even exchange, and hopefully a discourse. What
enlivens the situation most is a give and take between
the two parties, along with any perceptible contrasts
in temperament, aesthetic and technique. 

Fred Hersch qualifies as one of jazz’s most agile
conversationalists, and this week he serves as a kind
of pianistic Charlie Rose, performing at Jazz Standard
with a sharp succession of guests. Last night’s
invitee was Brad Mehldau; tonight it’s Kenny Barron.
The series opened auspiciously, even exquisitely, with
Ethan Iverson on Tuesday night.

The pairing was rewarding for a few reasons, including
an amiable divergence of style and the sheer quality
of the musicianship. There was also the intrigue of a
protégé facing his mentor: Mr. Iverson took a moment
to credit Mr. Hersch as “the first teacher that taught
me a lot.” (He had already acknowledged the presence
in the audience of Sophia Rosoff, a renowned piano
guru who has instructed them both.)

What Mr. Hersch and Mr. Iverson have in common —
besides an erudite grasp of postwar jazz piano
traditions, which counts for a lot — is their willful
sensitivity to touch and tone. This was most obvious
throughout Mr. Hersch’s “Out Someplace,” an elegiac
tone poem that elicited some carefully collaborative
abstraction. But the same approach to articulation
could be felt on the Sonny Rollins standard “Doxy,”
slowed to a molasses-drip tempo, and on “The Cup
Bearers,” a squirrelly tune by Tom McIntosh.

Each pianist played one solo piece, making
characteristic choices. Mr. Hersch steered “The Wind,”
a ballad by Russ Freeman, toward rhapsody: in a
flowing rubato, he drew out the ballad’s inherent
sense of vulnerability. Later Mr. Iverson offered
“Laura,” the theme from the Otto Preminger film, made
famous in jazz circles by Charlie Parker. His reading
was textbook noir, more Preminger than Parker: shadowy
dissonance at both ends of the pianistic register, and
a flinty melody emerging from the sober midrange. 

But even if Mr. Hersch and Mr. Iverson suggested two
distinct modes of iteration — longhand versus
linotype, perhaps — they managed to enact a genuine
colloquy. During a volley of four-bar phrases on
Thelonious Monk’s “Bemsha Swing,” they became wickedly
inventive; each new phrase was an extension of the
last, as well as a quick response. 

The truest test came when they improvised in tandem,
stacking chords and phrases as if by secret design. It
happened on “Doxy” and on Mr. Hersch’s halting
“Janeology,” and finally on a fox trot version of the
bebop standard “Star Eyes.” Somehow both musicians
were speaking and hearing at once, without any trace
of confusion.

Through Sunday at Jazz Standard, 116 East 27th Street,
Manhattan; (212) 576-2232, jazzstandard.net.


Roy Durfee
P.O. Box 40219
Albuquerque, New Mexico 87196-0219
rdurfee2003 at yahoo.com

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