Since his passing in 1994, there have been countless tributes to Antonio Carlos Jobim
. Many of these have been come from musicians who played with Tom, as he was called by those who knew him, including Mario and Maucha Adnet, Jacques Morelenbaum, Oscar Castro Neves, Ana Caram and Eliane Elias
. Interestingly, these productions have almost all featured small and large ensembles and a multiplicity of instrumentsstrings (bowed and plucked), voices, pianos and an array of percussion, or at least a drum master who inhabited a deeply Brazilian groove. In contrast, the daring, loving and singular tribute from pianist Fred Hersch, Plays Jobim
, is a spectacular adventure on piano alone, except for "Brigas Nunca Mais," which also features continuously circular and maddeningly brilliant splashes, pings and clitter-clatter from percussion colorist extraordinaire, Jamey Haddad.
Attempting a tribute to someone like Jobim is like taking off for the moon. A composer, arranger, singer, guitarist and pianist, and 20th century cultural phenomenon who sits in a heavenly place with the likes of Duke Ellington
and more, with Franz Liszt, Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravelhe's been virtually canonized. Not only does Hersch bring a certain reverence to his program in praise of Jobim, but he does so on a perfectly prepared piano all by himself. He pierces the heart of every Jobim melody and proceeds to bring each song's emotional essence to fruition. Moreover, Hersch's pianism is so harmonically rich that Jobim's songs become Hersch's by some magical inside out harmony. And then, with an ingenious understanding of the seemingly limitless rhythmic possibilities of the strings and ebony and ivory, and also mastery of dynamics, Hersch has made any other rhythmic accompaniment a non-issue. Except, that is, for the amazing track he shares with Haddad.
The program itself is a tricky one. How to compress Jobim into nine tracks and still do justice to the project? Hersch opts to bring a selection of familiar charts, such as "O Grande Amor," Meditacao," "Insensatez, "Desafinado" and "Corcovado," which the master himself played time and time again in various settings, treating these charts respectfully, but reserving his most adventurous improvisations for the "old familiars." "Desafinado" is masterfully deconstructed and remade afresh, while on lesser-known tunes such as the brooding "Luiza" and "Pos Toda Minha Vida," the pianist becomes almost spookily like a doppelganger of Jobim and Sinatra, making harmonic leaps but barely above a whisper at times.
The record is magical. Fred Hersch has been rather active of late. Only Hersch's brilliant oratorio, Leaves of Grass
(Palmetto, 2005), comes close. This is unbridled genius, unabashedly displayed.