Fred Hersch, who has calmly, sensibly, and passionately bequeathed us some of the most lyrical jazz of the past few decades, was lucky enough to have a house built around a piano. Specifically, a seven-foot Steinway B, with a certain percussive thunkiness to the D above middle C. The breezy way of describing Hersch’s solution to that thunk is that he turned a bug into a feature, as you can hear especially on this album’s versions of Cole Porter’s “Get Out of Town” and Jimmy Webb’s “Wichita Lineman.”
More elegantly, more emotionally, we could say Hersch’s found the best possible way to live with these times. Stuck at home because of the pandemic, alone for some of that time, he flipped over to playing one tune a day for his Facebook audience—solo piano, natch. That project eventually evolved into what’s here, although if I understand correctly, none of the Facebook outings made it onto the new set. “Wichita Lineman” sprints along, pulls back, and Hersch unassumingly (he’s always avoided flash) finds spaces between chords that lead to chord substitutions that lead to unexplored territory in the world-famous tune—Zeno’s infinities between two points, or even two measure markers.
He concludes by rolling out another famous tune, “When I’m Sixty-Four.” Stride piano transmutes into new shadings, new volleys, as if he’d collected every single rainstorm of his life, gathered choice raindrops varied by size, shape, color, tinge, velocity, and shade of overhead sky, then let only those fly. I know Hersch’s brilliance isn’t effortless; he’s spoken and written about what he had to go through to reach it. I’m grateful that he did, though, and that he’s here, free to thunk away for (let’s hope) another few decades.
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