In Fred Hersch’s eleventh solo album, he combines concert and “studio” performances in the JCC Art Center Concert Hall from Soul, South Korea. As is part of his musical character, Hersch delves deeply into his great loves of Brazilian and Monk. Of the former, his fingers sleekly slide on the sensuous “ZIngaro” while on “Eronel” the clever harmonies and rhythms are given more nuance and shadows, all parts of the Hersch dialect. Along with a rich take of the bop ballad classic “Whisper Not,” Hersch gives an impressive texture to Billy Joel’s “And So It Goes.”
But nothing prepares us for the publicly out of character 20 minute free form improvisation of “Through The Forest.” Comparisons are going to be made to Keith Jarrett, but the only association is with the fact that Hersch has finally brought this private means of piano expression out in the public, as he states he’s played like this for years. The opus has logic, coherence, style, harmonic cleverness and shape within the freedom. Even better, for all of the freedom and free thinking, there isn’t a hint of cacophony, always a trap for the spontaneous. Excellent familiar territory and new lands as well.
Speaking of new lands, Hersch has written a 300+ page book that successfully walks the tightrope between musical autobiography and coming to terms with his gay lifestyle. There’s plenty of red meat for the jazz head in all of us, including great stories about his early days Joe Henderson and Art Farmer. As for his personal journey, he starts with his upbringing and takes us through the recesses of his thought process as to his coming out as gay in the testosterone-dominated jazz field, dealing with becoming HIV positive and subsequently putting together a unique play about his time in a coma. As personal and self revealing as his albums, but with a typewriter instead of piano. Like with all things Hersch, nothing is hidden from the faithful fan.