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Music Review: Jazz pianist Fred Hersch creates subdued, lovely colors on 'Silent, Listening'

This cover image released by ECM Records shows "Silent, Listening" by Fred Hersch. (ECM Records via AP)

Jazz pianist Fred Hersch fully embraces the freedom that comes with improvisation on his solo album “Silent, Listening,” spontaneously composing and performing tunes that are often without melody, meter or form.

Listening to them can be challenging and rewarding. The many-time Grammy nominee ’s impressionistic approach creates colors that are subdued and lovely. It’s chamber jazz — closer to classical music than the blues — that will be familiar to fans of ECM Records founder Manfred Eicher, who produced. The album will be released Friday.

Hersch returns to the Swiss studio where he recorded his first ECM album, “The Song Is You,” a 2022 set with trumpeter Enrico Rava. The sound is pristine and airy, in classic fashion for the label, and Hersch makes full use of his instrument.

He explores the highest and lowest octaves, and strums inside the piano. With a light touch and disdain for anything showy, he plays single notes in meticulous extended sequences. There are also clusters that splash, splay and sashay, and an occasional forte chord for startling contrast. Sometimes a tune emerges, such as near the end of the contemplative “The Wind,” and amid the unsteady but seductive pulse of “Starlight.”

Hersch’s hands converse with each other, the parts they play by turns contrasting or complementary. Rumbling bass is answered by treble toggles and trills. The animated “Little Song” swings with bouncy good cheer, but the mood on Hersch’s other original compositions tends toward the wistful, ethereal or — as he describes it — nocturnal.

The amorphous, atonal music contrasts with his lyrical style on covers. The Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn tune “Star-Crossed Lovers” becomes a gentle wee-hours examination of melancholy melody. Hersch interprets “Softly, as In a Morning Sunrise” as a hummable, jaunty toe-tapper, and he saves for last his bluest performance, “Winter of My Discontent,” which achieves a glow that lingers.


AP music reviews:

Steven Wine, The Associated Press

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