4 in Perspective

COMPOSERS: Fred Hersch
LABELS: Village Life
PERFORMER: Fred Hersch Quartet: Fred Hersch (p), Norma Winstone (v), Paul Clarvis (perc), Kenny Wheeler (t, flhn)
CATALOGUE NO: 00909VL

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These two excellent quartet albums are successful in very different ways and the personnel of each include virtuoso musicians from very different generations. All are British except Fred Hersch, who’s American, and it was his UK agent who brought the 4 in Perspective quartet together to play a concert for Oxford Contemporary Music in 1999.

They had only one rehearsal, but it was so successful that Hersch asked for the concert to be recorded, and the music was released on Paul Clarvis’s own label. There are nine performances in a programme which offers much poetic music and some playful fun. Hersch’s contemplative ‘Sarabande’, with Winstone’s fine lyrics, is the opening, beautifully delivered with ravishing sonorities from piano, voice and Wheeler’s flugelhorn obbligato.

The third performance consists of four spontaneous improvisations with different instrumental combinations, and these run the gamut from the elegiac first, to the wild humour and gibbering flugelhorn of the fourth. Hersch’s heart-stopping requiem, ‘Out Some Place’, begins and ends with a howling wind, and the intensely focused performance stuns the audience into silence. Other high spots are the Wheeler/Winstone sweetly tender ballad ‘Wintersweet’ and Paul Clarvis’s duet with Hersch on the latter’s ‘Tango Bittersweet’.

The last piece is a riotous, ribald and humorous send-up of ‘Memories of You’, which delights the audience. Jim Mullen is a master guitarist who is constantly honing his art and craft. This risky venture that goes back to his Scottish roots by creating jazz versions of the songs of Scotland’s national poet, Robert Burns, has been so triumphantly achieved that Burns has the unity of a suite. Mullen points out that Burns had an ear for a good melody and chose some of the great tunes of his time to fit his words.

The melodies are given enhanced life by the richer modern harmonies Mullen has introduced, and his quartet, which is a working unit not a pick-up group, is integral to the project. Pianist Gareth Williams and Mick Hutton are among the most gifted of the younger generation, Gary Husband is already a leading drummer and pianist, and their passion for the project seems to match their leader’s.

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Mullen coaxes a singing sound from the guitar, making the melodies glow. The accompaniment is also exquisitely done, and the solos sparkle. ‘Banks and Braes’, ‘Comin’ Through the Rye’ and several less familiar tunes are lovingly remade.