Fred Hersch – Open Book

fredherschIt’s Sunday evening everyone (said while turning red wine in the bottom of my long-stemmed wine glass). Put those slippers on. Light a fire in the fireplace. Find that favourite chair of yours and kick back. Hell, why not, let’s put those feet up. It’s going to be a long week ahead. So, let’s just enjoy tonight. Is the wine bottle close by? Yes, there it is. Now, take a breath. Settle those nerves. Time to listen to some jazz solo piano from one of the greats, Fred Hersch.

“I’d rather not,” you may think, “I’d rather thrash to some metal.” Now, now. Calm down. We’ll have plenty of time for that on Wednesday when we feel like planning out a murder. For now, let’s get lost together (takes a long drag of wine and refills the glass next to candlelight). 

We’re in good hands with Hersch. He’s been part of the Jazz Studies in the New England Conservatory since 1980. His footsteps are lined with grammy nominations. He has played many weeklong engagements at the celebrated Village Vanguard and has recorded over 70 compositions. He’s a master of improvisation. “But improvisation is a manner of taste,” you may add (finishes my glass of wine in one gulp and gets slightly drunk), but … okay … there’s that sweet buzz … no matter your taste, in the world of improv jazz piano, Hersch is … he’s just… Hersch is the fucking shit. 

In all seriousness this album is bizarre. The themes explored are tense. It’s odd. At times it’s incredibly uncomfortable. This album is made primarily of an improvised piece called, “Through the Forest”. It’s thick. It’s not a song to play to seduce that 1950s girlfriend of yours. If you lose attention for a second, miss that thread, the entire thing falls apart. The song is 20 minutes. The rest of the album is made of a couple standards and a cover of Billy Joel at the end. These work like ice cream rewards for being such an attentive listener. “Through the Forest,” tells a story. A freaky story. You encounter monsters, darkness, and depression along the way, but you do eventually get through. In the end, it’s so fucking satisfying. To be honest though, jazz improv piano is tough. It generally takes more than one listen. It’s about being emotionally invested into the sounds of that moment, letting go of the self, and following along. It’s hard to focus and listen. Red wine can help, but listening more than once helps a lot more. But once the song is over, and the next song plays, you will let out a breath. Tension will be gone. Then, you can crawl over to that bed of yours slightly drunk and stress free. There will be no emotions left to feel after Hersch has played through them all. 


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