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Fred Hersch and Hiromi: Great Minds

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Contemplating the thought that Fred Hersch and Hiromi discussed the concept for these records in advance is little more fascinating than pondering how they came up with the idea independently of each other. While both artists reside within the general scope of jazz, each travels markedly different paths around the terrain: Hersch is the more traditional composer/improviser, his classical leanings in marked contrast to the pop-cum-fusion tendencies of Hiromi. Within the specific context of these companion pieces, however, it's the distinctions that matter as much as the execution, i.e., Hersch imbues his music with a warmth that precludes an overly cerebral result, while Hiromi brings her own inimitable sense of play to an otherwise formal enterprise. Accordingly, the titles of each work are telling in their own way, the former's studied approach derives from his meditation ritual even as the latter's own extended suite shines with that spirited sense of adventure that permeates her eclectic endeavors.

Fred Hersch / Crosby Street String Quartet / Drew Gress & Jochen Ruekert
Breath by Breath
Palmetto Records
2021

The prolific pianist/composer's technical prowess throughout this LP is as impeccable as the string players' and the rhythm section's (including Rogerio Boccato on percussion for "Mara"). Yet what may be more impressive still is the fluidity by which all those participating interact: none abandon a sense of play for the sake of mere exactitude. Commencing with somewhat sharp, bell-like tones tones from the ivories on "Begin Again," Hersch and company weave in and out of each other's paths, concluding some seven minutes later with a mirror image of that entry as they exit. It's not only a veritable tour-de-force in and of itself, but a microcosm of "The Sati Suite"'s eight pieces in toto. The graceful insistence in that musicianship renders all the more welcome the comparatively leisurely segments to follow such as "Awakened Heart" and, thanks to expert technical assistance, all the filigree of this action is readily apparent across the breadth and throughout the depth of the stereo spectrum as this approximately forty-minutes unfolds. The sound quality is as much a mirror of the intricacy of the music as the relationship between the production team of Franky Rousseau and Hersch himself and the various engineers; the overall integrity of this project derives from a collective effort including those devoted to recording (James Farber and David Stoller), mixing (Brian Montgomery) and mastering (Klaus Schuermann).

Hiromi
Silver Lining Suite
Telarc Records
2021

Hiromi's wide-ranging approach to her music may erroneously give the impression she is merely dabbling in style, but this work with the string quartet, technically precise as it is, highlights her scrupulous application of detail(s). Yet her fastidious attention to nuance is hardly at the expense of the tangible sense of joy she and her collaborators radiate: indeed, this is why the term 'play music' is so appropriate throughout her Silver Lining Suite. In correlation to the cover photos where Hiromi is pictured ever-so-solemn on the front and all smiles on the back, the nine segments' titles traverse the gamut of emotions, most specifically (and surely not coincidentally) a direct reflection of the transitions between piano and strings. And whether or not extended tracks running upwards of ten minutes are a direct, liberating result of eschewing a rhythm section, Hiromi makes the most of the extra room within the arrangements: "Fortitude" mirrors "Isolation" in the same way violins, viola and cello alternately counterpoint and complement the tones (and attitudes) arising from the ivories. Remarkably too, spontaneity co-exists with rigor in a mutually nurturing dynamic that is, in a very real sense, the apotheosis of the fundamental components of jazz. Besides the solidarity of the five-piece itself, that's all the more reason to credit this album to 'The Piano Quintet.'

Tracks and Personnel

Breath By Breath

Tracks: The Sati Suite—Begin Again; Awakened Heart; Breath By Breath: Monkey Mind; Rising, Falling; Mara; Know That You Are; Worldly Winds.

Personnel: Fred Hersch: piano; Crosby Street String Quartet (Joyce Hammann: violin; Laurea Seaton: violin; Lois Martin: viola; Jody Redhage Ferber: cello); Drew Gress: bass; Jochen Rueckert: drums; Rogerio Boccato: percussion.

Silver Lining Suite

Tracks: Isolation; The Unknown; Drifters; forittude; Uncertaintly; Someday; Jumpstart; 11:49PM; Riebera Del Duero

Personnel: Hiromi: piano; Tatsuo Niche: 1st violin; Sohei Birmann: 2nd violin; Neguna Naka: viola; Wataru Mukai: cello.

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