Fred Hersch

Songs Without Words

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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 fl├╝gelhornist 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.

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