March 1997

Fred Hersch
Plays Rodgers and Hammerstein
Nonesuch Records

Fred Hersch has absorbed the whole history of jazz piano, starting with ragtime, running up to the present. Of course, he's hardly the first person to do this, but what makes Hersch so exceptional is how inventive he is at paying tribute to his forebears while making a full-fledged musical statement of his own. You can tell the wheels are always turning in his head as he moves through these pieces, deconstructing familiar melodies via intensely personal improvisations, and his ability to separate what his left and right hands are doing is so amazing that at times you might think there are really two players at work here.Hersch's homage to Rodgers & Hammerstein is a solo shot. A truly gorgeous one, where he deftly crafts moods of warmth and high emotion. His version of "Loneliness of Evening" is so reflective and heart-rending that you need not know the lyrics to get the gist of the tune. "Surrey with the Fringe on Top" gets a fragmented abstract treatment. Whatever the approach exceptional expressive sensitivity reigns throughout.

Originally published in March 1997

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