Pianist Fred Hersch (website) released his new album Songs From Home in celebration of his 65th birthday, and that makes me feel old. When I first discovered Hersch in the ’90s, he was one of those young upstarts who really energized the contemporary jazz scene. He also fully embraced the audiophile crowd, making recordings that sounded beautiful for such audio-approved labels such as Chesky. Such a talented young man! He’ll go far!
And now Fred Hersch is 65, and I’m not far behind.
Let’s not be maudlin, because here’s the gift. Songs From Home is exactly that. Fred is in his Pennsylvania home, under quarantine, playing some of his favorite music. It’s that simple. You want to hear songs like “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly,” “Wichita Lineman,” and “When I’m Sixty-Four” through the fingers of the very innovative and original Fred Hersch? That probably doesn’t sound as remarkable to people who don’t understand the sophisticated and intelligent style he has brought to contemporary jazz, but the magic of Hersch is his ability to tackle ideas at unusual angles.
I used to think of Fred Hersch as “angular” in style and perhaps a bit lean, but listening to him now reminds me of learning a new language and how everything looks completely different once you’re fluent. What was once unusual and daring is now simply words in the language of Hersch. We’re talking about phrasing that never cuts corners. We’re talking about a particularly athletic touch on the keys. We’re talking about one of the few contemporary jazz pianist who play, and suddenly you say hey, that’s Fred Hersch. I’d know him anywhere.
Like always, the sound quality is stunning. This is Fred, in his home, playing on 7′ Steinway Model B, and it doesn’t really need to be any more complex than that. A piano can reveal so much about sound in general, and great care was taken to capture that feeling in his home. You know the feeling, where Fred invites you over and the next thing you know he’s asking you if you want him to play something for you. That’s all it needs to be.