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Fred Hersch, 'Solo,' Palmetto Records (REVIEW)

By Mike Greenblatt m.greenblatt@classicalite.com on Sep 26, 2015 12:01 PM EDT

Pianist Fred Hersch, 59, is gearing up for what promises to be an amazing birthday for his big 6-0. First comes Solo (Palmetto Records), a gorgeous piano recital recorded live in an old church high atop the Catskill Mountains of New York at last year's Windham Chamber Music Festival. It's his tenth solo CD.

Hersch meanders through compositions by composers as seemingly diametrically opposed as Antonio Carlos Jobim (the opening Brazilian samba "Olha Maria/O Grande Amor" transmogrified by his 10 fluent fingers into an escapist absurdist flurry of Rio at rush hour) and Joni Mitchell ("Both Sides Now," the somber closing track). In between he interprets Ellington ("Caravan"), Jerome Kern ("The Song Is You" slowed way way down) and Thelonious Monk ("In Walked Bud," done as a maddening scramble).

Be it duo or trio or writing charts for chamber orchestras, Hersch can shine but it's when he's all alone sitting on his piano stool, fingers splayed wide and ready to bop, swing, stroll or make composers of hundreds of years ago come unequivocally alive, that he's at his absolute best.

His trio week at the Village Vanguard in New York City starts Oct. 20. His song cycle ("Rooms Of Light") with spoken-word passages by poet Mary Jo Salter will debut at Montclair State University in New Jersey Oct. 15-18. (The production includes five actors, an instrumental octet and bodacious lighting.) All of this is some sort of renaissance for the composer/performer who will be making his Jazz At Lincoln Center debut in January and his Newport Jazz Festival debut next summer.

To that end, he's already turned in his resignation as a professor at the New England Conservatory.

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TagsFred Hersch, Palmetto Records, Windham Chamber Music Festival, REVIEW