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Fred Hersch – ‘Silent, Listening’

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    Posted: 19 Apr 2024 at 7:59am
Fred Hersch: Silent, Listening

(ECM 2799. Album review (*) by Phil Johnson)FRED HERSCH - Silent, Listening cover


As you would probably expect, pianist Fred Hersch’s first solo album for ECM, recorded in May last year, is a quiet triumph. Following his recent duo recording for the label with trumpeter Enrico Rava, ‘The Song is You’, and using the same Lugano studio and piano, Hersch has chosen a repertoire of often experimental, extempore-sounding originals mixed with a few very carefully chosen standards. The latter include the opening Ellington/Strayhorn number, ‘Star-Crossed Lovers’, which he first recorded on his debut recording in 1985, together with ’Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise’, Russ Freeman’s ’The Wind’, and Alec Wilder’s ‘Winter of my Discontent’.

While it seems impolite to prefer standards to original compositions in a contemporary album, and it’s the tension between them that is perhaps the most important thing here, Hersch’s performance on each of the more familiar tunes is absolutely exemplary. The closing two tracks of the album, with Romberg’s ’Softly’ leading into the Wilder selection, are the equal of almost any solo piano interpretations in the canon.The overall mood – and there is a mood, corresponding to what Hersch called the “nocturnal” atmosphere of the album – is one of gentle and delicate yet free and spontaneous probing of the piano’s potential. “I still believe in the idea of an album as a complete musical statement from beginning to end”, Hersch is quoted as saying in the label’s background notes to the recording. “To me, an album has to tell a story.”

The seven original compositions vary between brief sketches or jumping-off points for improvisation, as in the title track, and what appear to be more considered, pre-planned or fully-rounded pieces such as the beautiful ‘Little Song’, originally written for the duet date with Enrico Rava. What unites them all is Hersch’s exquisite sensitivity to sound. In a recent ‘Round Midnight’ broadcast the pianist Fergus McCreadie spoke of the importance of “touch” to the pianist, and how he felt it was still a neglected asset in jazz. With Fred Hersch and ’Silent, Listening’, touch is very nearly all. The quality of the LP pressing I listened to – and quietly played solo piano is often a testing format for vinyl releases – was superb.

(*) Reviewed from the vinyl. Silent, Listening is released today 19 April 2024.

from https://londonjazznews.com

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