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Sunday, October 12, 2008


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Pianist and composer Fred Hersch, called, by Downbeat "one of the small handful of brilliant musicians of his generation," presents a rare survey of his multi-faceted artistry on the 3-CD set Songs Without Words. The set includes a disc of Hersch's original compositions, a disc of interpretations of pieces by a variety of noted jazz composers, and a disc devoted to the music of Cole Porter. All three discs are primarily solo piano albums interspersed with duo, trio, and quintet performances.
"The set is unique in the way that it demonstrates all the things I like to do, as an arranger, composer, solo artist, collaborator, and bandleader, " says Hersch. "There's a group of pieces where I'm interpreting songs that have lyrics, a group of pieces where I'm dealing with the jazz tradition, and then my tunes, which are very technically demanding. It's all there." Hersch recorded all three discs simultaneously, mixing the material in the recording studio into "sets," much like those he might employ in a concert performance, in order to capture the spontaneity of a live setting.
Disc one of the set is also is titled Songs Without Words, named for the suite of six original Hersch compositions that open the disc. Each of the movements is intended for solo piano and presents a particular technical challenge, with Hersch's innate sense of melodicism present throughout the classically-inspired suite. To complete the disc, Hersch chose three of his favorite older original tunes: "Child's Song" (performed as a duet with percussionist Jamey Haddad), "Heartsong" and "Sarabande." Also included here is a newer piece inspired by recent Hersch bandmate Kenny Wheeler called "Up in the Air," performed in duet with trumpeter Ralph Alessi.
For volume two, Jazz Tunes, Hersch selected ten pieces by some of his favorite jazz composers, including both well-known standards (Ellington's "Mood Indigo," Juan Tizol's "Caravan," Monk's "Work") and lesser-known gems (Kenny Wheeler's "Winter Sweet," Russ Freeman's "The Wind"). "Whenever I put together a disc, it's like planning a meal," Hersch says. "I'll need to have variety, pianistic contrast and moods within each album, but each disc has to hang together as a statement." This solo set is broken up with a version of Wayne Shorter's "Fall" by Hersch's new quintet, which includes saxophonist Rich Perry, trumpeter Ralph Alessi, bassist Reid Anderson and drummer Nasheet Waits.
The final volume, Cole's Songs, presents Hersch's take on the songbook of Cole Porter, including such well-loved tunes as "So in Love," "Don't Fence Me In," "From This Moment On" and "You're the Top." On this disc, as with Hersch's previous songbook releases, the challenge was in interpreting instrumentally songs that were originally written with lyrics. "When I'm figuring out how I want to approach a tune, I think about the words," Hersch says. "I'd like to think that if you know the words, you'll understand how I arrived at a particular interpretation." Hersch uses his quintet on "Everytime We Say Goodbye," while his longstanding trio of bassist Drew Gress and drummer Tom Rainey plays "Easy yo Love." The set ends with a rousing duet with Rainey on "Let’s Do It."
Taken as a whole, Songs Without Words is a comprehensive and illuminating portrait of Fred Hersch as he continues to explore and expand the role of solo piano in jazz while also offering glimpses of his work in other settings. Songs Without Words is Hersch's sixth Nonesuch release.

Fred Hersch, piano
Ralph Alessi, flugelhorn (disc 1, track 8), trumpet (discs 2 & 3, track 5)
Reid Anderson, bass (disc 2 & 3, track 5)
Drew Gress, bass (disc 3, track 7)
Jamey Haddad, percussion (disc 1, track 7)
Rich Perry, tenor sax (discs 2 & 3, track 5)
Tom Rainey, drums (disc 3, tracks 7, 10)
Nasheet Waits, drums (disc 2 & 3, track 5)

CD 1
Songs Without Words
1. Aria 6:58
2. Ballad 5:54
3. Tango 5:36
4. Duet 5:52
5. The Moon's Lullaby 6:38
6. Waltz 3:12
7. Child's Song 10:11
8. Up in the Air 5:47
9. Heartsong 5:35
10. Sarabande 6:33

CD 2
Jazz Tunes
1. Work 5:16
2. Caravan 6:54
3. The Wind 7:12
4. Con Alma 5:13
5. Fall 6:28
6. Winter Sweet 5:18
7. Whisper Not 6:44
8. Miyako 7:46
9. Duke Ellington's Sound of Love / Jump Monk 5:56
10. Mood Indigo 5:53

CD 3
Cole Porter
1. Get Out of Town 5:28
2. So in Love 7:49
3. From this Moment on 6:07
4. Don't Fence Me in 5:08
5. Everytime We Say Goodbye 5:59
6. All of You 5:49
7. Easy to Love 5:16
8. I Concentrate on You 7:31
9. You're the Top 6:43
10. Let's Do It 2:53

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