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April 2006

Fred Hersch
In Amsterdam: Live at the Bimhuis
Palmetto Records

When most jazz pianists play unaccompanied, either they make you miss the bass and drums or they overcompensate in their left hand for the absence of bass and drums. But solo Fred Hersch is a complete, self-sufficient, uniquely pure art form. Until now the best Hersch solo album has been At Maybeck, on Concord. But In Amsterdam, his seventh solo recording, is even stronger. It is lush yet measured, luminously poetic yet unsentimental, impulsively inspired yet formally elegant.

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Fred Hersch

Hersch did not know he was being recorded. The soundman handed him two discs, one for each set, at the end of the evening. The best stuff was chosen for this single album. The stars were aligned on this night. It was the last performance of a 10-day European solo tour; the Bimhuis had just acquired a superb new nine-foot Steinway; the audience was rapt; Hersch was on.

The pinnacle is "The Peacocks," wherein Jimmy Rowles' ephemeral melodic mystery is revealed in cascades and chiming clusters over 12 minutes of variations like successive pools of light. "The Nearness of You" is also long and slow and passionately detailed. "Don't Blame Me," however, is related to Monk's dry, trenchant solo version.

That soundman's name is Jurre Wieman. Buy him a drink the next time you're in Amsterdam.

Originally published in April 2006
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