Songs without Words

LABELS: Nonesuch
PERFORMER: Fred Hersch (p), Ralph Alessi (t), Rich Perry (ts), Reid Andertson (b), Nasheet Waits, Tom Rainey (d)
CATALOGUE NO: 7559-79612-2


If Fred Hersch wasn’t such an unassuming man, you’d think releasing three discs of solo piano – just slightly leavened here and there by a handful of duo and quintet tracks – was taking a liberty. This set builds on his previous Nonesuch recitals – on Monk, Strayhorn and Rodgers and Hammerstein – with magnificent results.

The opening disc of new originals needs further study, but the second (‘Jazz Tunes’) and third (Cole Porter) are immediately arresting. Hersch seems able to come up with fresh ideas on even the hoariest themes: ‘Caravan’ has never been played in this extraordinary way before, and Porter’s ‘So in Love’ proves again that Hersch does slow tempi better than any other pianist of today.

He’s a complex personality, with a tune as difficult as Thelonious Monk’s ‘Work’ made even more demanding by the rigorous transformation he imposes on it. As sonorous as his touch is, his musical ideas have their own particular severity, which puts steel into even the prettiest pieces.


Two tracks by the quintet with Ralph Alessi and Rich Perry are strong enough to wish for a full set by the band, but this is Hersch’s affair, and he gives his all. Richard Cook