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Songs Without Words

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Album Review

Fred Hersch's sixth release for Nonesuch is a three-CD set, with separate volumes focusing on original works, classic jazz, and, finally, songs by Cole Porter. His suite of six "Songs Without Words" can't help but highlight his background in classical music, but his lyrical pieces still have the "sound of surprise" that differentiates jazz from all other forms of music. Percussionist Jamey Haddad joins the pianist for a remake of "Child's Song," the most free form performance on the first disc. "Up in the Air," a duet with flügelhornist Ralph Alessi, is a hypnotic waltz that proves to be immediately captivating. Hersch revisits two of his early compositions, and "Heartsong," a happy piece that bursts with energy and remains one of his most enduring works; there's also a new version of his moody ballad "Sarabande." Disc two has some interesting twists. Thelonious Monk's "Work" isn't all that well-known, and the pianist responds to its quirky theme with an imaginative improvisation. Russ Freeman's "The Wind" receives an initially melodic treatment then detours into a free form setting that remains accessible. Kenny Wheeler's "Winter Sweet" is very familiar ground for Hersch, who has performed it often with its composer. Also present are equally creative interpretations of music by Duke Ellington, Benny Golson, Wayne Shorter, Charles Mingus, and Dizzy Gillespie. Hersch's greatest challenge may have been the often-recorded Cole Porter's music. Yet he doesn't hesitate to find a new path through "Get out of Town," giving it a darker texture. The wave-like bassline added to "From This Moment On" gives it a new flavor, while his caressing of "I Concentrate on You" adds to the beauty of this already memorable ballad. Bob Blumenthal's enlightening liner notes add to the value of this highly recommended set.

Customer Reviews

Good Set

Reminiscent of his Maybeck solor concert, this compilation is mostly of him alone at the piano. His solo work is superb, his playing is subtle and thoughtful, and his choices of songs (without words) are sometimes surprising. Fred Hersch is a gifted musician and a fine artist at his craft.

Among the Greatest Solo Piano Feats

I have never written a review before, but had to rush to this album's defense after seeing Haydeo's quick and uncalled-for dismissal. This album is not an "embarrassment to jazz," instead, it leads the great march forward into new territory by seeking textures and tones previously unexplored in the idiom. In "Aria," for example, an Ivan Lins-imitating track, Hersch plays the melody in his right hand, a Brazillian bass line in his left hand and a comping pattern in between his two hands. On the second disc, Hersch's reharminization of Ellington's classic "Mood Indigo" is played with such a sparkling touch, that I would call it one of the most beautiful tracks I've ever heard. The brooding track "So in Love" is exquisitely paced, heart-wrenching, and heartfelt, taking the classic Cole Porter tune to a sincerity rarely imagined. In addition to his musical creativity,, Hersch used a unique recording system in which speakers were instantly fed back into the studio to provide a concert hall-like environment which results in a truly remarkable aural experience listening back to the piano. What might make an inexperienced listener like Haydeo uncomfortable with this music is that Hersch brings elements of classical music into his solo piano style (as the album title, a not-so-veiled reference to Mendelssohn would indicate), so on first listen in might not sould like "jazz" to the untrained ear. The improvisation on this album, however, is stellar in every sense, and if you're anything like me, this will be one of the albums that you are putting in your CD player over and over again.

Modern Master-Tip Top Jazzer

This is the work of a modern master in top form. This compilation from Nonesuch is Hersch producing an embarrassment of riches. The track "Child's Song" has all the excitement and wonderment you would hope for on a song with such a title and zero sugar. " So in Love" is a desperate, desolate and lonely ride we shouldn't be allowed to join in. Even in the saddest Cole Porter tracks you can still hear the beauty of Hersch's hands wringing out the chords to take care of everything and drive you back to a better place. Lucky us. Thanks itunes for finally providing us with this recording. Thanks moreso to Hersch for serious jazz in a world that continues to have jazz with a lower case "j".


Born: October 21, 1955 in Cincinnati, OH

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

An acclaimed jazz pianist, composer, and educator, Fred Hersch is a supremely gifted soloist with a sophisticated, yet unself-conscious approach to playing standards and his own original compositions. As a teacher, he counts both Brad Mehldau and the Bad Plus' Ethan Iverson as former students. As a player, his nuanced style, influenced by such giants as Ahmad Jamal, Bill Evans, and Oscar Peterson, has garnered him multiple Grammy nominations, and made him a benchmark for modern jazz. Openly gay and...
Full Bio
Songs Without Words, Fred Hersch
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  • $19.99
  • Genres: Jazz, Music
  • Released: Mar 20, 2001

Customer Ratings