Fred Hersch: Silent, Listening

Inspired by a duo session with Enrico Rava in Lugano the pianist wanted to make his ECM solo debut in the same hall, on the same piano

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It seems at last as if Fred Hersch has found his natural home, right where he belongs on ECM with its historic roster of solo pianists. He first recorded for the label in November 2021, in a spontaneous duo with trumpeter Enrico Rava, and then wanted to repeat the experience as a solo pianist, in the same hall in Lugano, where the acoustics were perfect, and on the same piano, too, with Manfred Eicher again as producer.

As befits the label’s new boy, he starts this set tentatively, reverentially, with a sparse interpretation of Billy Strayhorn’s Star-Crossed Lovers but then strengthens his hand on a series of his own compositions. Night Tide Light is fractured and episodic, Akrasia – which means acting against one’s better interests – alludes to life during lockdown when Hersch indulged in detective novels and computer games he knew he should be avoiding, while the title track has written material at the beginning and end, allowing Hersch to improvise on its motifs to great effect in the middle.

Throughout, what he calls his open improvising – the playing of “not tunes”, as he terms them – gives him space to explore and expand, his delicate Starlight, for example, blossoming into a luxurious episode, while Aeon is gossamer thin in texture, its high-register notes contrasting with a bass undertow.

Three standards complete the set, which he had no idea he was going to play: “I just sort of felt them at the moment,” he explains. Russ Freeman’s The Wind provides one of the album’s most magical moments, a one-take deconstruction that is gentle but full of feeling. Sigmund Romberg’s Softly, As In A Morning Sunrise repeats the ingenuity of probably its most famous interpreter Sonny Rollins, while the concluding Winter Of My Discontent, suggested to Hersch by its composer Alec Wilder when they first met up in New York, revels in its suitably nostalgic, poignant delivery. It provides a fine ending to what is a strong solo debut on the label.

Discography
Star-Crossed Lovers; Night Tide Light; Akrasia; Silent, Listening; Starlight; Aeon; Little Song; The Wind; Volon; Softly, As In A Morning Sunrise; Winter Of My Discontent (50.44)
Hersch (p). Lugano, Switzerland, May 2023.
ECM 5890962