2018 Grammy Award Nominee!
• Best Improvised Jazz Solo: "Whisper Not"
• Best Jazz Instrumental Album: Open Book
Innovative Jazz Pianist On Vinyl LP!
Fred Hersch has long been acclaimed as an exploratory artist, an outspoken
activist, an influential educator and a uniquely revelatory and lyrical pianist.
As one of the most expressive voices in modern jazz, Hersch has never been shy
about letting listeners glimpse his most intimate thoughts and emotions. In
September 2017, however, Hersch's fans were treated to even deeper, more
revealing insights into the story of the renowned pianist when he published his
much-anticipated memoir, Good Things Happen Slowly: A Life In and Out of Jazz.
As a companion piece, Hersch decided to present an equally direct and vulnerable
glimpse into his private musical thoughts with his 11th solo release, Open Book.
The pieces on Open Book offer some of the finest, most unguardedly emotional
solo music that Hersch has created in a career unique for its profound poignancy
and passion. Recorded in a South Korean concert hall on a superb Hamburg
Steinway concert grand piano, the album captures the vital essence of the
revelatory adventurousness and intense beauty that have made Hersch one of the
most important solo artists in jazz. With more than 40 albums to his credit as a
leader or co-leader, Hersch remarkably continues to discover new areas of
inspiration and depths of feeling.
"For the last two and a half decades I've been pretty open about who I am, what
I like and what I'm dealing with at times," Hersch says. "But I've always got to
dig deeper, and I thought this might be a chance to make an album that's a
window into the kinds of things that I play at home or don't play in public all
The centerpiece of Open Book, and the spark that ignited the album, is the
nearly 20-minute improvisation "Through the Forest." Unique in Hersch's
extensive discography, the stream-of-consciousness gem is a miniature
masterpiece of narrative development, a compelling journey through an abstract,
glimmering landscape, revealing that in his early 60s Hersch continues to take
creative risks and daunting inventive leaps. "Through the Forest" became the
leaping-off point for an album intended to be singularly divulgent and
reflective. A few months later, Hersch returned to the same hall and recorded
the remainder of Open Book alone in the empty venue (with the exception of Benny
Golson’s classic "Whisper Not," taken from a concert during that return
The album opens with the stark musings of "The Orb," taken from Hersch's
autobiographical music-theater piece My Coma Dreams. A love letter to Hersch's
longtime partner, AIDS activist Scott Morgan, "The Orb" is the final dream
depicted in the show, and in this solo rendition becomes a nakedly heartfelt
outpouring of raw but tender emotion. The mood then takes a turn for the playful
and swinging on "Whisper Not," a longtime staple of Hersch's repertoire that
here becomes a vibrant, virtuoso marathon of thematic exploration. The piece
also serves as an ideal mirror to the album's other composition from the pen of
a jazz icon, Thelonious Monk's "Eronel." Hersch has long been recognized as one
of the premier interpreters of the Monk songbook, but despite including one of
the iconic composer's pieces in every one of his sets for most of his career,
Hersch had never tackled this particular tune, co-written by pianist Sadik
Hakim. Monk's original stride-inflected lines come in for a dizzying array of
variations in Hersch's endlessly imaginative take.
The music of Brazil has also been a constant in Hersch's career, in particular the music of Antonio Carlos Jobim, the subject of one of the pianist's earlier solo efforts, 2009's Fred Hersch Plays Jobim. On this set Hersch plays Jobm's "Zingaro".
Open Book also features Billy Joel's moving "And So It Goes." In title alone it's an apt conclusion, suggesting an embrace of life as lived and hinting at its open-ended continuation. The full lyrics, which Hersch has performed in duo settings with singers including frequent collaborator Kate McGarry, remain unspoken here but obviously deeply felt in every note. "I connect with the sentiment of the words," Hersch says, "and it felt like a good benediction to the whole album."
"This is a recording that makes it seem as though Fred Hersch is the finest
jazz pianist in the world. That's an impossible assertion, of course. There are
a dozen, maybe more pianists who have achieved this level [of] artistry. But for
now, with Open Book, he can wear that title." - Dan McClenaghan, All About
"There’s no such thing as a casual listen to a Fred Hersch recording. Diving
into the American pianist/composer's work is no cold shower, though, but a trip
into an enchanting world of teeming melodies, rich colours and criss-crossing
stories. Like Keith Jarrett and Brad Mehldau, Hersch is a brilliant solo artist,
and Open Book is a mix of originals and covers built around Through the Forest,
a remarkable total-improv performance from a 2016 concert in Seoul. This
20-minute journey traverses dreamy Bill Evans-like musings, onrushing
counterpoint, sleek swing and strutting dances – and typically, no idea spins
for long without turning on a chord or cadence that suggests an old tune but
isn’t. Whisper Not is a string of playful left-right chases; Antônio Carlos
Jobim’s Zingaro is an outwardly orthodox ballad that invites attention to every
gleaming detail and Thelonious Monk’s Eronel is coquettish rather than Monkishly
truculent, but just as rhythmically audacious. It is a typical Hersch set:
understated, cliche-free, and sublime in its craft and musicality." - John
Fordham, The Guardian
"After you've listened to the whole record without distraction, go back and
listen again. The pleasures deepen. And when you get to the centerpiece, that
less obvious 'Through the Forest', it sounds different. It seems to contain
traces of all these other ideas, abstracted and made more clear perhaps. It
swells more, and it sweeps in a whole conception of what solo jazz piano can
be." - Will Layman, Pop Matters
• Vinyl LP
Fred Hersch, piano
1. The Orb
2. Through The Forest
1. Whisper Not
3. And So It Goes