Superior pianist Fred Hersch here finds himself reunited with clarinetist Michael Moore and drummer Gerry Hemingway in the chamber jazz ensemble Thirteen Ways. The group, named after Wallace Stevens’ classic poem “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird,” examines the genius that can result when three improvisational masters come together in a recording studio. The music on Focus is at once heartfelt and adventuresome. The sonic background is wide open, with blank space playing a major role in many of the dynamic performances. Hersch shows equal abilities at playing post-bop and avant-garde stylings in such delightful pieces as “Janeology” and “Tango Bittersweet.” His solos are expansive and surprising, and he provides wonderful background for Moore’s slinky, noodling phrases. Hemingway’s percussion is equally wonderful; often employing syncopated backgrounds to Moore’s straight-ahead swing melodies. The two strongest works on the album are Moore’s charmingly melancholy “Autumn Eves” and Hersch’s poignant “Out Someplace (Blues for Matthew Shepard).” This disk is a beautiful examination of free-form jazz at its best. Never dull or overly dissonant, it allows the performers to take the music in unexpected directions, expanding upon already fascinating melodies. All three musicians show remarkable soloing abilities, but their facility to work together is what makes Thirteen Ways such an exciting ensemble.

Categories: Music