When pianist Fred Hersch works with jazz singers, only the most collaborative will do. As he explained to JazzTimes at the 2015 Newport fest, he creates “an orchestral bed or rhythmic bed for the singer, but I expect them also to listen to me,” to be both “spontaneous and connected.” For years he’s restricted such partnerships to just piano and voice, shaping albums alongside Janis Siegel, Nancy King and Norma Winstone (with select appearances by vibraphonist Gary Burton). Foremost among these stellar pairings is 1995’s Beautiful Love with the great Jay Clayton, newly remastered and rereleased. It is simultaneously a masterwork of individual artistry and of shared respect and ingenuity.
All 10 of the playlist’s standards have been endlessly mined by other singers, other players, yet they are infused with such interpretive verve, such reciprocal brilliance, that even the hoariest among them sound entirely fresh. To single out specific tracks, whether by Cole Porter, Sammy Cahn, Rodgers and Hart or Wayne Shorter, is to diminish the album’s holistic wondrousness. Suffice it to say that Clayton’s inspired, dynamic voicings are propelled, caressed, underlined and otherwise defined by Hersch with astounding imagination, sensitivity and veneration. She responds in kind. Musically speaking, they do indeed share a most beautiful love.