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The Fred Hersch Ensemble: Leaves of Grass

Jim Santella By

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The full chamber ensemble assembled by Fred Hersch for this project creates a beautiful scene that reflects Walt Whitman's poetry appropriately. A serious tone with religious fervor and dramatic overtones emanates from the adventure.

"Song of Myself," the album's centerpiece, flows gently, with Whitman's poetry supplying the lyrics and Hersch's ensemble supplying the mood. As Kurt Elling sings about people, places, beliefs, and motivation, we can feel the poet's aims. Cello, piano, rustic woodwinds, and gentle brass surround him with conservative colors. Whitman's lengthy piece of literature has always been inspiring. Similarly, Hersch's ensemble sends a convincing message. While the musical impressions that accompany "sounds of the city," "sounds of the day and night," and "the loud laugh of work people at their meal" appear too elementary and transparent, the project's overall impression succeeds in conveying a mature outlook. Elling turns in an outstanding performance.

As McGarry recites "The Mystic Trumpeter" alongside Ralph Alessi's sensual open horn, you can feel the dreams moving them in circles. As she moves to sung lyrics and consonant wordless passages, the duo climbs upon a pedestal to be worshipped. Their combined demeanor places them above the din. As the other ensemble members join them, the piece becomes stronger and louder, while maintaining its perspective of mysticism.

Hersch takes his core trio on an instrumental stroll with "At the Close of the Day," while Elling and McGarry capture most of Leaves of Grass with their unique vocal interpretations. Spoken word, wordless teamwork as members of the band, and lyric rendering presents Whitman's timeless work with deep feeling. The musical painting that Hersch has created honors the poet and his universal theme with open arms.

Visit Fred Hersch on the web.


Track Listing: A Riddle Song (overture); Song of the Universal; Whoever You Are Holding Me Now in Hand; Song of Myself: Part I ("I Celebrate Myself"); Part II ("A Child Said, 'What is the Grass'"); Part III ("A Learner With the Simplest"); Part IV ("I Exist as I Am"); Part V ("I Am He That Walks"); Part VI ("Through Me Forbidden Voices"); Part VII ("Now I Will Do Nothing But Listen"); Part VIII ("I Believe a Leaf of Grass"); Part IX ("I Fly Those Flights"); Part X ("My Lovers Suffocate Me"); Part XI ("Why Should I Wish to See God"); The Mystic Trumpeter; At the Close of the Day (instrumental); To You/Perfections; The Sleepers; Spirit That Form'd This Scene/On the Beach at Night Alone; After the Dazzle of the Day

Personnel: Ralph Alessi (trumpet, flugelhorn), Mike Christianson (trombone), Bruce Williamson (clarinet, alto saxophone, bass clarinet), Tony Malaby (tenor saxophone), Erik Friedlander (cello), Drew Gress (bass), John Hollenbeck (drums, percussion), Fred Hersch (piano), Kate McGarry (voice), Kurt Elling (voice)

Title: Leaves Of Grass | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: Palmetto Records


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