January 2021 Jazz Record Reviews

Fred Hersch: Songs from Home
Fred Hersch, piano
Palmetto PM2197 (CD, also available as download). 2020. Fred Hersch, prod., eng.
Performance ****
Sonics ***

Many jazz musicians have responded to the global pandemic by creating music of hope and solidarity. Songs from Home is a shining example. Fred Hersch recorded it himself. He used the Logic program on his MacBook Air, four microphones, and a Focusrite Scarlett 18i8 audio interface. The sound is acceptable.

That Hersch has become one of our most renowned pianists proves that jazz is a meritocracy. He is neither musically flamboyant nor personally charismatic. All he does is play masterful, advanced, accessible, modern jazz.

Hersch calls this "kind of a comfort food album," but he is too deep an artist to make easy-listening music. In an atmosphere of quietude, his literal interpretations creatively wander. The songs come from all of our lives. "Wouldn't It Be Loverly," surprisingly slow and dramatic, becomes a prayer for darkness to end. He remembers Glen Campbell singing "Wichita Lineman" "on Sunday night TV"; the song's melody and story were affecting then and they're affecting now. Hersch rebuilds it into something formal as a fugue. Joni Mitchell's "All I Want" features his exquisite touch, which makes notes glisten. Ellington's "Solitude" is marked out faithfully because it is all too perfect for our time. Hersch attaches his heartfelt "West Virginia Rose" (for his mother and grandmother, "two Jewish ladies from West Virginia") to the Scottish traditional "The Water Is Wide," one of Western culture's saddest, bravest expressions of the search for love.

For 64-year-old Hersch, one song was preordained: "When I'm Sixty-Four" ends the album in a jaunty, thumping, defiant stride celebration.—Thomas Conrad


Horace Silver Quintet: Further Explorations
Silver, piano; Clifford Jordan, tenor sax; Art Farmer, trumpet; Teddy Kotick, bass; Louis Hayes, drums.
Blue Note (LP).. Alfred Lion, prod.; Rudy Van Gelder, Kevin Gray, engs.; Joe Harley, reissue supervisor.
Performance *****
Sonics ****½

Further Explorations isn't the best-known Horace Silver album (that would be Song for My Father), but it is one of the best, certainly the most intriguing. Silver gained fame in the mid-1950s as co-founder, along with drummer Art Blakey, of the Jazz Messengers, the embodiment of hard bop, a soulful strand of Charlie Parker's bebop with a backbeat. This album, recorded in 1958, 2 years after he left the Messengers, was a departure in another way: as an experiment in rhythm. The opener, "The Outlaw," is built on a 13-bar line with 10- and 16-line intervals. "Melancholy Mood" is structured along seven-bar phrases. "Moon Rays" is a brisk ballad with discordant Latin drum accents. Blues, a heady swing, and a dash of funk are ever-present. Silver lacked the virtuosity of the era's other notable pianists, Monk and Powell, but he had a percussive flair, a keenness for melody that kept the knottiest passages seamless, and a genius for riffs.

The players are in as fine a form as I've ever heard them, and the session is the only one by this quintet to feature Jordan on tenor, replacing Hank Mobley. Jordan adds intensity to the mix, evoking Mobley's thick tone but also Dexter Gordon's fluency and Sonny Rollins's improvisational zest. His solo on "The Outlaw" is a head-spinner.

This is another "Tone Poet" reissue of a Blue Note classic, and, while the sound falls a little short of the best in this series (the band doesn't quite pop from the speakers in 3D), it still sounds damn good in the usual ways: dynamic, tonally true, and sizzling.—Fred Kaplan


Juliet Kurtzman/Pete Malinverni: Candlelight: Love in the Time of Cholera
Juliet Kurtzman, violin; Pete Malinverni, piano
Saranac Records SR1020 (CD, also available as download). 2020. Juliet Kurtzman, Pete Malinverni, prods.; Chris Sulit, eng.
Performance ****
Sonics ****½

W. H. Auden famously wrote that "poetry makes nothing happen," but the global pandemic has brought forth an outpouring of music offered as a healing force. Pete Malinverni sees his new album as "art in service to human connection ... in this time of distress."

Candlelight is unusual in format and repertoire. It presents a classical violinist and a jazz pianist in a program heavy on tangos and Bix Beiderbecke piano pieces. It is also beautiful.

Candlelight is more a juxtaposition than a blend. Kurtzman portrays melodies in a violin sound of surpassing purity. Malinverni creates spontaneous embellishments and rhythmic sparks and displacements that could only come from a jazz musician. He takes infrequent, vivid solos. On "Oblivion," he follows Kurtzman's haunting portrayal of Astor Piazzolla's theme with an improvised new corollary of that theme, also haunting.

For jazz people, the first takeaway from Candlelight may be to recognize that in jazz, we don't get enough of the violin's achingly poignant sonorities.

The harmonies of the Beiderbecke pieces, such as "In a Mist," set up nicely for a classical violinist's application of impressionism. "Body and Soul" is high entertainment. Kurtzman sings it sweetly on her instrument, then Malinverni strings notes like pearls around the melody. Kurtzman returns and plays Coleman Hawkins's iconic solo. Hawkins's arpeggios on "Body and Soul" were groundbreaking in 1939. Transcribed for violin, they are revelations for the new millennium.—Thomas Conrad


Matthew Shipp Trio: The Unidentifiable
Matthew Shipp, piano; Michael Bisio, bass; Newman Taylor Baker, drums.
ESP 5039 (CD). 2020. Steve Holtje, prod.; Jim Clouse, eng.
Performance ****
Sonics ****

A veteran free-jazz pianist, Shipp adds to his prolific recorded output this fourth album by his current trio. His idiosyncratic style is difficult to pin down—dissonant but not prickly, cerebral but accessible—and while his inspirations range from Bud Powell to Sun Ra, he remains distinctive. Conventional melody is virtually absent, yet traditional influences such as bebop and Latin jazz are apparent. The group is preternaturally tight, communicating as if by clairvoyance, and the sound quality is as good as one can expect for a contemporary piano trio recording.

The moods expressed here vary from raucous to romantic, beginning with the tender, classical-sounding "Blue Transport System," which gives way, after a brief drum solo, to the tempestuous "Phantom Journey," featuring repeating piano riffs in Morse code–like rhythm. "Dark Sea Negative Charge" is an elegiac meditation that ends with a softly thumping bass solo; "The Dimension" is a scampering, rumbling piano solo; and "Loop" is an agitated three-way conversation.

"The Unidentifiable," replete with Shipp's trademark repetitions, is the most explicitly boppish track, albeit in an off-kilter vein. "Regeneration" is pure Latin jazz in a hard-bop mode, scintillating over a bass vamp. The two-part "Virgin Psych Space" opens with a tom-tom solo followed by a searching trio colloquy. "New Heaven and New Earth," opening with a mournful arco bass solo, is a radical tour de force of structured chaos that rises in intensity over clattering drums and churning bass, with repeating keyboard figures that suggest a discordant Philip Glass.—Larry Birnbaum

jimtavegia's picture

That if he had used the Focusrite Clarett 2 pre, 2 channel and two nice mics at C3 and C5 panned at 10 and 2 O'clock and recorded at 2496 to start he could have easily hit 4 stars. Sometimes simpler is better.

I bought my son a Scarlett 3rd gen and it is much better than the 2nd gen I gave him he was using. Clarett mic pres are an improvement.

downunderman's picture

The cover shot for Fred Hersch - 'Songs from home' looks to be of the Crawley Bay boatshed on the swan river here in Perth, Western Australia. A location far from Fred's home!