Fred Hersch, the renowned jazz pianist and composer, has always celebrated melody and rhythm in his playing but lately his music, in solo, duet and trio settings, sounds more assured and his new album, “Whirl,” (Palmetto Records) has a glow of perfection. Working in tandem with bassist John Hébert and drummer Eric McPherson, two versatile musicians with an arsenal of ideas, Hersch lays out the welcome mat with an enchanting rendition of “You’re My Everything,” dedicated to his partner, Scott Morgan. His fingers touch the piano keys just so, exposing the tender parts of the song while celebrating the uplift that the melody conveys. Hersch is a certain and steady improviser, peeling back layers of a tune as on the evocative original, “Snow Is Falling,” where the trio reveal the nuances that exist within its pretty waltz-like melody.
But in the months leading up to the recording of “Whirl,” Hersch endured a debilitating bout of pneumonia that put him into a coma and nearly finished him. Hersch has been HIV+ for the past 24 years, originally diagnosed in 1986, and we learn in the recent Dutch documentary, “Let Yourself Go: The Lives Of Jazz Pianist Fred Hersch,” that he approached his recordings and concerts as if each was going to be the last one. In 1994, he came out as a gay man publicly, putting a unique face of an artist living with AIDS (and what that means being a jazz musician). As evidenced in the affecting profile of Hersch by David Hajdu in The New York Times (linked here), he fights this epic battle in his body daily.
"Whirl" is a highlight in the astonishing life (so far) of Fred Hersch. His music and recorded works have always been vital, but here the music has a profound emotional rhythm.
The album is perfectly programmed and paced – along the way, we’re treated to the fun and difficult to play Hersch original “Skipping,” a heartfelt Brazilian habanera called “Mandevilla” and a Paul Motian tune (“Blue Midnight”) that Hersch learned for his gig with the drummer at the Village Vanguard. Two revelations at the record’s end – a bouncy Jaki Byard tune that swings with righteous purpose and “Still Here,” a lyrical tribute to one of Hersch’s strongest influences, Wayne Shorter. To top it off, the sound recording by James Farber is meticulous and warmly captures the immediacy of the trio. (10 tracks; 56:10 minutes) www.fredhersch.com
(The pianist maintains an exemplary website. Also, the documentary is must viewing. Click on the title for more information. This review of Fred Hersch is modified from one that appeared in the August 2010 issue of ICON magazine).
Labels: Eric McPherson, Fred Hersch, James Farber, John Hébert, Palmetto Records, Paul Motian