By Denise Sullivan | Published January 2020
Pianist Florian Hoefner’s concept on First Spring was to use bluegrass as a starting point for his jazz arrangements. And while the two distinctly American forms might seem odd bedfellows, Hoefner’s melodies and juxtapositions succeed at conjuring a high-lonesome Aaron Copeland or Bill Evans on a pastoral trip.
Hoefner trades the quartet lineup of his previous efforts for a trio set up here. With Andrew Downing on bass (often bowed, standing in for fiddle) and Nick Fraser on drums, the trio succeeds at making real Hoefner’s intent for the six reworkings and three originals on First Spring: Make it new.
The original compositions fit into the thematic whole with grace and agility. “First Spring” is a lithe and lovely slice of melody and movement; “Winter In June” captures the tentative and somber mood of its title without faltering; and “Solstice” speeds along on the wind of Hoefner’s deft fingers.
As for the interpretations, “Hound’s Tune,” which takes on the work of fiddler Rufus Guinchard, is driven by Downing’s bass stylings, the trio’s execution demonstrating simultaneous urgency and confidence. Traditional Scottish folk song “Maid On The Shore” sails on Hoefner’s exquisite melody as the rhythm section carries the song along. The finale, “Rain And Snow,” has been recorded by acts like The Grateful Dead and Bill Monroe. But the ominous arrangement here is fitting for a song characterized in folk circles as a murder ballad. And while it’s not necessarily recognizable as the traditional song some of us know and love, Hoefner seems to be saying, “What’s the point, unless you can innovate?”
First Spring: Hound’s Tune; Calvary; First Spring; Maid On The Shore; Winter In June; Loosin Yelav; Short Life; Solstice; Rain And Snow. (58:24)
Personnel: Florian Hoefner, piano; Andrew Downing, bass; Nick Fraser, drums.