Fred Hersch, Silent, Listening Review


Fred Hersch, Silent, Listening Review

by Stamish Malcuss

Fred-Hersch-cdReleased by ECM Records on April 19, 2024, Silent, Listening by Fred Hersch enriches the label’s innovative solo piano recordings tradition. This album, a unique amalgamation of seven original compositions and spontaneous improvisations alongside a curated selection of standards, marks a significant addition to Hersch’s catalog. Hersch, a stalwart in the jazz community, is known for his unique approach to innovating within the solo piano genre. This album reaffirms his commitment to the art of solo piano while staying true to the expressive power of jazz.

Silent, Listening is a project that displays Hersch’s solo piano concepts and touch; it explores sound, space, and spontaneity. Hersch constructs a nocturnal ambiance that leverages his historical jazz influences while engaging in a fresh, introspective dialogue through eleven structured and improvised forms. The album builds on Hersch’s prior collaboration with Manfred Eicher and expands his repertoire in the realm of solo piano. His return to the Auditorio Stelio Molo RSI in Lugano showcases his affinity for its acoustics and instruments, which perfectly complement his artistic vision.

Hersch’s music synthesizes various influences, from the reflective tones of Billy Strayhorn and Duke Ellington to the more personal touches seen in his original compositions like “Akrasia.” The blending of standards with his spontaneous creations allows Hersch to navigate between different musical expressions, from classical jazz to open improvisations.

Tracks like “Star-Crossed Lovers” and “Akrasia” demonstrate Hersch’s ability to articulate profound musical narratives through minimalistic yet impactful approaches. His rendition of “Softly As In a Morning Sunrise” reflects his reverence for jazz standards, infused with personal interpretation. His ability to keep a staccato bass movement moving forward while solo with his right-hand makes this track interesting.

“The Wind” and “Volon” stand out as pieces where Hersch’s innovative spirit shines. These compositions are notable for their dynamic exploration of the piano’s sonic possibilities, blending technical playing and multiple parts with a piano touch that brings out the emotional depth of each track. “The Wind” has elements of modern classical and shows Hersch’s gentle touch on the piano and control of resolving dissonances. “Volon” continues in the modern classical vein, sounding serial at times, again Hersch’s control of tension and release is key to its success, drawing the listener into a rich emotional journey.

Hersch’s engagement with jazz’s rich history through his performance of standards and interactions with other genres influences emphasizes his deep roots and broad understanding of the genre. Silent, Listening contributes significantly to the modern jazz narrative by continuing the tradition of solo piano in jazz with a fresh, introspective approach of the genre’s expressive potential. The album is a journey through various moods and tones, from the introspective quietude of “Night Delight” to the contemplative depth of “Akrasia.” The sequencing of tracks reflects a coherent narrative flow that guides the listener through a spectrum of emotional states, culminating in a compelling musical story that inspires and appreciates the jazz genre.

Hersch’s utilization of the piano not just as an instrument but as an extension of his creative voice is evident in his nuanced touch and spacious arrangements. The production under Eicher’s guidance ensures that each note Hersch plays is captured with clarity, preserving the intimacy and immediacy of his performances.

Silent, Listening is another documentation of Fred Hersch’s evolving solo piano concepts, weaving together emotional and musical themes through both improvisation and composition. Silent, Listening  is an ambient jazz musical journey that showcases Hersch’s ability to blend structure and improvisation into a seamless, emotive experience. It is highly recommended for anyone who appreciates the depth and breadth of solo piano in jazz.

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