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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Steve Arloff, Nick Barnard, Pierre Giroux, Don Mather, James Poore, Glyn Pursglove, George Stacy, Bert Thompson, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf

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  1. Olha Maria/O Grande Amor
  2. Caravan
  3. Pastorale (For Robert Schumann)
  4. Whirl (For Suzanne Farrell)
  5. The Song Is You
  6. In Walked Bud
  7. Both Sides Now

Fred Hersch (piano)

Recorded 14 August 2014, live at Windham Civic Center Concert Hall, Windham NY [60:41]

Fred Herschís tenth solo album coincides neatly with his 60th birthday. Recorded very beautifully in Windham Civic Centre Concert Hall Solo features seven pieces that explore the breadth of the pianistís affiliations and enthusiasms. Two of the seven are originals.

His refined lyricism can be savoured in the mini-medley of Jobimís Olha Maria and O Grande Amor, where the rich, cushioning acoustic Ė especially sympathetic to the pianistís round, ringing treble Ė allows him to venture thoughtful dynamics. Above all, though, this is resonantly romantic playing, which contrasts a slower piece with a more vigorous up-tempo one. Caravan is a study in tone, rhythm, and texture. Its teasing and witty voicings start by showing some Monk-like elements but its swaying swing patina are all part of Herschís arsenal. He is rewarded for his daring with appreciative applause from the audience. His exemplary rich harmonies are best encountered in his tribute to Robert Schumann, Pastorale in which he draws the German romantic into his own lexicon beginning and ending with refined simplicity. The journey is all, and Hersch is a master of harmonic and textural narrative.

Whirl is a fluid Hersch original whilst Jerome Kernís The Song is You may be a romantic reverie but itís certainly not one devoid of colour and richly nuanced playing, always alert, always alive. The Boppish bravura of In Walked Bud allows him to play with metrics, slyly to slip in a few half-quotations, and to encourage a rolling left hand to determine proceedings, to a large extent. The brio with which he plays this earns him more merited and long applause. Finally he turns to Joni Mitchellís Both Sides Now, an unlikely-seeming song on which to end. The refulgent richness of his playing, however, banishes any residual fears that Hersch is coyly appropriating unsuitable material. Rather, it is wholly suitable, and sounds quite at home in this splendid recital.

Jonathan Woolf

And another review...

It's been a while since Fred Hersch first began to grace the jazz scene Ė the late 1970s, in fact. Celebrating his 60th birthday on the twenty first of October, the pianist, composer, arranger and jazz educator can be heard here on his tenth solo album. The recording was actually made last year before a live audience at the Windham Chamber Music Festival in the Catskills, New York State. The venue, I gather, was a church, described as 'jewel-like', though the sleeve credits refers simply to Windham Civic Center Concert Hall. Presumably they are one and the same. Like so many of the finest jazz pianists, Hersch carries traces of the great Bill Evans in his playing, but nevertheless still manages to be his own man. For this album, Hersch has included a couple of his own compositions, both carrying dedications, and a selection of standards drawn from the jazz canon and from popular music.

Olha Maria/O Grande Amor are both Jobim compositions. The first is a wistful melody played with due sensitivity then Hersch seamlessly shifts into one of Jobim's most familiar tunes which he interrogates with vigour. Caravan, I feel, is only passable by Hersch's high standards. When a tune has been recorded so often over the years, it can always carry the risk of sounding hackneyed. There is then a corresponding temptation to strive for originality of treatment. For sure, this is an unconventional rendering of the jazz classic and a slightly oblique approach is adopted by Hersch, but I wasn't enthused by the result. By way of contrast, Pastorale (for Robert Schumann), dedicated to the nineteenth century composer, is a delectable piece. Written by Hersch, it is performed with quiet and eloquent authority. Impressive. Whirl (for Suzanne Farrell), the other Hersch composition, is a musical tribute to the ballerina and founder of the Suzanne Farrell Ballet at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC. Appropriately enough, this is faster and,at times, powerful. Jerome Kern's The Song Is You begins slowly and reflectively before the melody emerges. This heart-melting ballad is provided with little embellishment but is played flawlessly, rather in the way Keith Jarrett approached material of this kind on his ECM album The Melody At Night, With You, and to similar, moving effect.

Another stand-out track would be Thelonious Monk's In Walked Bud, which receives an imaginative treatment with Hersch improvising freely in the spirit of the master. The final track is Joni Mitchell's Both Sides Now. Some might feel that this version of a well-loved song is too respectful, even reverent, but I found myself appreciating how Hersch's nuanced and discursive take on the melody enhanced its qualities.

It is apparent from the enthusiastic applause that the live audience for this solo concert relished the playing of Fred Hersch. Hersch himself reckons that this resulting album may be the best solo album he has ever produced. Who am I to argue with the judgement of the maestro? He has produced a splendid example of the art of jazz piano.

James Poore

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