Fred Hersch/Marty Erlich/The Fred Hess Quartet 

The Fred Hersch Trio + 2/The Long View/The Long and Short of It

Most jazz musicians serve long apprenticeships that only gradually give way to the stages of solo mastery beyond them; here are outstanding releases by three musicians who made the transition. Fred Hersch has long been recognized as one of the best of the post-Bill Evans pianists. For the last couple of years, he has been working with bassist Drew Gress and drummer Nasheet Waits, and last year's Live at the Village Vanguard was widely regarded as a high point in a career that started in the late '70s. Trumpeter Ralph Alessi and tenor saxophonist Tony Malaby are great pluses indeed, and Hersch's compositional abilities are apparent on the wide range of originals on this program, while the tendency of Evans-influenced players to be too precious is hardly in evidence.

Marty Erlich seems to have hung around forever and played with everyone, perennially winning polls in the "multi-reed" category and establishing himself as one of the most consistently rewarding voices on the contemporary scene. The Long View may be his most ambitious recording, big in every sense of the word, from the twenty supporting musicians to the enormous variety of sounds, styles, and moods covered in this six-movement opus. This is music that, without striking poses, bridges the gaps between the classical and jazz worlds, and between neo-classical and avant-garde approaches. A remarkable achievement.

Though less elaborate in production terms, The Long and Short of It is another ringer. Tenorman Fred Hess leads a quartet with trumpet, bass, and drums in the kind of wonderful group interplay one associates with '60s recordings led by Ornette Coleman or Don Cherry. Of course, this style no longer seems exotically new, and these guys tend to spend as much time inside as out, harmonically speaking. But what counts is the fact that this is music that really communicates -- Hess' reputation probably suffers for being based out of New York, but his music is well worth seeking out.

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