Precision. Mastery. Commanding. Romantic. Heavenly. Going to a Fred Hersch concert is experiencing those things and more. From seeing the way he approaches the material and the instrument to the sound he gets when playing a diverse set of repertoire, it was like experiencing an intense spiritual moment when coming from a church service.
Fred Hersch’s solo performance at the Enwave theatre began with a set of original compositions that showcase his influences, his inspirations, and his great sense of melodic and harmonic ideas that comes out of his writing and playing. He started out the night with his composition “Whirl”, which resembled a dancer whirling and twirling around the stage in a graceful manner. “Whirl” had echoes of Bach counterpoint in the writing and execution of the performance, plus the performance had a lot of life and vibrancy as it carried on. His classical influences continue in pieces such as “At the Close of the Day” and “Pastoral”, which showcase the poetic and lyrical side of Fred Hersch, which even channels the styling’s of Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett when approaching the material. One of my favourites of the original repertoire, “Dream of Monk”, showcase another influence, hence the title referring to the great pianist/composer Thelonious Monk. It was a swinging and a spirited take that fused elements of “Crepuscule with Nellie” and “Blue Bolivar Blues” yet it is a work that is completely original and reflected the spirit of Monk at the same time.
In addition to the great original compositions showcased in his recital, Hersch devoted the other set to interpretations and arrangements of standards and cover material. Among the highlights of his set was a spirited take on Cole Porter’s “You’re The Top”, a standard that hasn’t been done to death and should be explored more by jazz musicians; a slowed down ballad version of “The Song is You”, which shows off the beauty and the hidden nuances of the standard to create a very captivating and arresting performance that stirs the soul; and “Whisper Not” is a spirited, swinging take on a bebop classic in which Hersch was able to find new explorations and new melodic and harmonic possibilities within the standard.
Hersch’s piano playing, compositions, and choice of repertoire shows that he is a very captivating performer that provides an enriching experience for both himself and the audience. He treats the standards and cover materials with respect, and the original material could even pass for classical music since it had the precision, technique and mastery that comes from a classical composer. When he plays, all of the influences and inspirations come out in one unified, personal voice that does justice to the material at hand. Overall, I would say that Hersch’s solo piano concert is one of the most captivating performances in the festival and I hope he comes back again to repeat that magic to old and new fans alike.
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