It is a pleasure to follow pianist Fred Hersch's recorded output as he delivers creative and deeply felt solo and small group jazz, seeking to express ideas that sometimes approach the mysterious and ineffable, yet remain rooted in the best of musical expression. In this excellent release, Hersch offers nine solo piano versions of the work of the late great and beloved co-inventor and master of Brazilian bossa nova, Antonio Carlos Jobim
, many of whose songs, initially brought to the jazz scene by guitarist Charlie Byrd
and saxophonist Stan Getz
and hitting the pinnacle of the pop charts with the vocal renderings of Astrud Gilberto
and, later, Frank Sinatra
, have become standards and touched the hearts of many.
As Hersch mentions in the brief reflections of his liner notes, he does not try to recapitulate the straight-ahead bossa nova renditions that he learned early in his career and that have characterized the multitude of recordings of Jobim's music. Rather, each is a meditation and sometimes even a deconstruction of what is contained in each song; in this sense, perhaps, reminiscent of the subtle renderings of guitarist Joao Gilberto. In gentle, reflective ballads such as the opening "Por Toda Minha Vida," "Luiza," and finale, "Corcovado," Hersch seeks to sustain a mood, often reminiscent of Bill Evans, and concentrating on the inner voicings of the Debussy-ian harmonies that influenced both the late pianist and Jobim. In a series of introspective variations, he goes into the corner pockets of the song, looking for an image here, a sense-memory there, a moment of truth everywhere. At times, like Evans, he achieves a loveliness that reaches down into the heart.
What Hersch does with the upbeat bossa novas like "O Grande Amor," Brigas Nunca Mais" (accompanied by percussionist Jamey Haddad), and "Desafinado" comes as a bit of a surprise, as he rocks and rags the bossa rhythm into something vaguely reminiscent of a cross between tango and hip hop, and which he explains in his commentary is based on Brazilian ragtime, "chorinhos." Once accustomed to it, the strong rhythm adds energy to the tunes that even Jobim might not have contemplated. Ultimately it is pure Hersch-play, specifically his unique way of finding something different, even a bit exotic, and going with it, although Jobim himself anticipated some of this fun in his wonderfully playful and intimate recording with Brazilian singer, Elis Regina
All of the music here is infused with Hersch's ability to use his vast assimilation of classical and jazz genres to tell a story and improvise rich tapestries of harmony, counterpoint, and tone color that enter into a reflective reverie between himself and Jobim. He never retreats from complexity, and at times achieves a compositional richness which suggests that what he plays spontaneously could well be transcribed into an orchestral suite. This is not the casual Jobim that gets piped into restaurants and hotel bars. This is one master musician's homage to another, done with respect. One can be sure that Jobim himselfwho, more than a song writer, incorporated his awareness of multiple musical modes, from Brazilian samba, to Debussy and Villa-Lobos, to West Coast "cool" jazz into his songswould have felt honored and touched by Hersch's interpretations.