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Fred Hersch: Solo

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Fred Hersch made his first solo piano recording in 1993. It was Volume 31 in Concord’s Maybeck Recital Hall Series, which eventually reached 42 titles. Today, when solo jazz piano lacks this level of support, Hersch perseveres, a keeper of the flame. He has now made 10 solo albums, four of them live. Three of those, including this new one, are what Hersch calls “found objects.” They come from concerts when he did not know he was being recorded.

Solo is a performance in the Windham Civic Center (once a church) in Windham, N.Y. Hersch is a naturally elegant, erudite improviser who thinks in terms of overall governing form. But on this night, his passion causes songs to spill free. He sounds impulsive, daring and bursting with creative energy. He plays like his hair is on fire. “Olha Maria” and “O Grande Amor” are ecstatic outpourings loosely based on the harmonic and melodic aesthetic of Antonio Carlos Jobim. They are harder and denser than the versions on his 2009 solo album, Fred Hersch Plays Jobim.

A contrarian spirit rules the evening. “Caravan,” no longer sinuous, becomes huge, blocky, irregular architecture. “The Song Is You” is improbably slow and reflective. Two Hersch originals are classical in their formality, yet extravagant. “Pastorale” is lush impressionism for Schumann. “Whirl,” for Suzanne Farrell, is a vivid rendering of a ballerina in motion. Best of all is “Both Sides Now.” Jazz interpretations of Joni Mitchell are common, but this one is special, alternately rapt and eruptive.

The risk with “found objects,” recorded as archival documents rather than for release, is sound quality. The recording of Solo captures too much of the reverberant acoustic space of a former church. Hersch’s piano is diffuse, but that is greatly preferable to not having it, especially on a night this hot.

Originally Published