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Fred Hersch: Open Book

Dan McClenaghan By

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In the aftermath of his coma and very possible demise back in 2008, pianist Fred Hersch blossomed from a status as a first rate jazz pianist into the rarified air of one of the handful of top practitioners of that art form. A series of post-illness albums, from Whirl (2010), to Alone At The Vanguard (2011) to Floating (2014), Solo (2015) and Sunday Night At the Vanguard (2016), all on Palmetto Records, are all solo and trio outings that reveal a heightened artistic clarity and unabashed vulnerability, alongside a deeper emotive approach, this in comparison to his uniformly excellent, but perhaps more cerebral output before his struggle with serious health problems.

Now we have Open Book, Hersch's eleventh solo piano outing.

Intimacy is a hallmark of Hersch's music, and "The Orb," the set's opener, taken from Hersch's autobiographical music/theater piece, My Coma Dreams, is the tenderest, loveliest of love songs, a look at a paramour through, with justification it seems, rose-colored glasses. "Whisper Not," Benny Golson's classic tune, takes things into a turn of the playful, via crisp, prancing piano notes singing over a serious and  assertive left hand. Hersch  visits an old friend, Antonio Carlo Jobim, with "Zingaro," a sublime reverie.

The centerpiece, "Through The Forest," is something unheard of on record by Hersch. It's a nineteen minutes-plus, stream-of-consciousness, improvised in-the-moment masterpiece. An ebb and flow dreamscape of sorts—the most fragile of delicacies and the most sacred and quiet moments slipped in beside emphatic percussive energy—music as enchanting as anything the pianist has ever created.

Then in walks Monk. Hersch includes a Thelonious Monk tune in most every set, most every recording. "Eronel" is a spritely interpretation by Hersch, who immerses himself the challenging music deeper than most anybody, peppering the stride-side  with sparkling, water-splashing-off-the-rocks sounds, rolling into jagged eddies, leading into the closer, Billy Joel's "And So It Goes," solemn, simple, honest, beautiful.

Honesty—another hallmark of Hersch's art.

This is a recording that makes it seem as though Fred Hersch is the finest jazz pianist in the world. That's an impossible assertion, of course. There are a dozen, maybe more pianists who have achieved this  level artistry. But for now, with Open Book, he can wear that title.   .   

Track Listing: The Orb; Whisper Not; Zingaro; Through the Forest; Plainsong; Eronel; And So It Goes.

Personnel: Fred Hersch: piano

Title: Open Book | Year Released: 2017 | Record Label: Palmetto Records

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