First things first. Yes, Dave Douglas named his new album, Dark Territory, after my new book of the same title. This may seem odd: my book is about the history of cyber war; Douglas' album is a deep-dive exploration of improvisation, composition, and technology in the risky corners of jazz and electronica. But in an email sent out by his self-owned label, Greenleaf Music, he explains that both works are about "similarly mysterious murky waters of underground activity" and that he found my title fitting because, like the characters in my book, he and his band are "playing through a similar territory without rules where the dangers and challenges of technology are much greater than normal."
In my last blog, I referred to “my friend, the pianist Frank Kimbrough,” so some of you may be leery when I tell you in this entry that Kimbrough’s new CD, and his first solo work, Air (on Palmetto Records), is a terrific piece of work, one of the half-dozen or so great solo piano albums of the past few years. If your suspicions keep you from checking it out, well, your loss.
Frank Kimbrough is a protean artist; his voices are myriad, adaptable to the occasion, as a musician, bandleader, sideman, and composer. His new CD, Quartet (on the Palmetto label), is his first album as the leader of a foursome. (The other albums under his name have been solos, duets, or trios), and it's among his most inventive.
Fred Hersch is playing six nights of piano duets at the Jazz Standard in New York City this week, pairing off with a different pianist each night, and Tuesday’s opening set was a marvel, further evidence that Hersch, not quite 52, is one of the two or three most harmonically imaginative jazz pianists on the scene and keeps carving new pathways—more intricate and probing, but no less swaying or lyrical.
Fred Hersch's new double-disc album (on the Palmetto label) might be called Alive at the Vanguard, instead of the customary Live at . . . , for two reasons. First, it's a declaration that Hersch, who's had HIV-positive for many years and not long ago slipped into a coma for six months, is alive. Second, this music is alive: fire-breathing with adventure, dance, spirits of all sorts . . .
Fred Hersch, one of the top handful of jazz pianists on the scene, spent several months in a coma last year, owing to complications from HIV, with which he’s been living for well over a decade. When he emerged, he had to teach himself how to play piano all over again—not the technique, but the reflexes, the timing, the coordination—but you wouldn’t know it from Whirl (on the Palmetto label), his first album since the return.
Fred Hersch's Floating (on the Palmetto label) is his strongest album in a decade (you'd have to go back to his 2006 solo disc, In Amsterdam: Live at the Bimhuis, to match the energy) and maybe his strongest trio album ever.
With Solo, his 49th album as a leader (or co-leader) and 10th as a soloist, Fred Hersch nails his standing as one of the premier jazz musicians of our time, a pianist of subtle touch and propulsive flow, something like Keith Jarrett but more focused, less rhapsodicRavel to KJ's Liszt or Rachmaninoff (not that there's anything wrong with either).
Pianist Fred Hersch plays at the Village Vanguard this week, joined by bassist Drew Gress and drummer Paul Motian. I was at last night’s early set, and it was one of the most bracing I’ve seen in a long while.
I veer away from ruminating on war and peace in my Slate column today, to run down my list of Best 10 Jazz Albums for 2011. My piece over there includes hyperlinks to 30-second sound clips (the maximum that copyright law allows), but here's the list (the more devoted of you readers will notice that I've written in this space about all of them over the past year).