Album Remarks & Appraisals:
"Apparently, Hersch wasn't ready to die or to stop making music, and Whirl is the evidence, his first recording since recovering from his illness, issued on Palmetto and featuring bassist John Hebert and drummer Eric McPherson. The ten tunes on offer here reflect in Hersch something that, while altogether him (his lyric style is always immediately recognizable), is also more open, less formal, and even more adventurous in terms of tune selection, composition, and improvisation... there isn't anything on Whirl that suggests sorrow or caution. If anything, this is among the most celebratory and energetically intimate records in Hersch's large catalog." -All Music Guide
"One of the most artistically driven forces in jazz and one of the most influential pianists of his generation, Hersch buckled down, focused intensely on rehabilitation and brought himself back into the fold. Whirl is the first recording Hersch has made after his recovery and, while still retaining the key components of his sound and style, a looser and more organic feel seems to surround some of this music." -All About Jazz
"Many of the greatest jazz musicians have refused to let physical setbacks derail their artistic journey. When Les Paul discovered his broken arm would be permanently set in one position, he made sure it was at a proper angle for guitar playing. Guitarist Pat Martino suffered a brain aneurysm and had to relearn to play the guitar - and rediscover his very being. Pianist Fred Hersch can now be added to this list.
In late 2008, Hersch fell into a coma that lasted two months, could not swallow - or eat or drink - for eight months and suffered a variety of other AIDS-related ailments (i.e. renal failure) as his body was, essentially, shutting down. Medical care, sheer determination and the miraculous spirit of the human body eventually helped Hersch battle back but, as David Hadju noted in an article for the New York Times Magazine, "he lost nearly all motor function in his hands and could not hold a pencil, let alone play the piano." While it would be easy for many people, given the same circumstances, to give up, Fred Hersch is not most people. One of the most artistically driven forces in jazz and one of the most influential pianists of his generation, Hersch buckled down, focused intensely on rehabilitation and brought himself back into the fold.
Whirl is the first recording Hersch has made after his recovery and, while still retaining the key components of his sound and style, a looser and more organic feel seems to surround some of this music. The effortless, relaxed swing of "You're My Everything" begins the album. Drummer Eric McPherson's light touch and constant movement help to gently move this piece along while bassist John Hebert's playing is highly complementary to Hersch's ideas. McPherson is the rare musician who often paints non-stop ideas, yet manages to blend into the bigger picture and add all the right touches. Hersch's "Snow Is Falling..." is a wonderful example of his Midas touch on the piano. Few whose fingers grace the 88s can even come close to getting the sound that Hersch charms out of a piano. The airy ambience endemic to Paul Motian's work is apparent in Hersch's moody and intriguing take on the drummer's "Blue Midnight." Hebert and McPherson help a great deal in painting this beautifully hazy picture.
"Skipping" is one of the hippest pieces on this album and the title - perhaps referencing the mixed meters or simply the act of skipping - perfectly reflects the fun and jaunty feel. "Mandevilla," self described by Hersch as a habanera that's "named after a Brazilian jasmine vine," gives Hebert a chance to step out front for a bit and the bassist perfectly supports Hersch during his brilliant and enthusiastic soloing. McPherson moves to brushes for the trio's musings on "When Your Lover Has Gone," an evocative display of sensitivity mixed with creativity. While Hersch has never had, and is unlikely to develop, a heavy handed approach to playing, his sound is definitely bolder and more agressive as his trio swirls and storms through the musical whirlwinds of "Whirl." The calm after the storm arrives with "Sad Poet," a Hersch original dedicated toAntonio Carlos Jobim. While McPherson solos over the vamp at the end of the song, the better part of the piece swims through calm waters and - while avoiding any direct reference to Jobim's canon - serves as a fine tribute to this musical pioneer.
Pianist Jaki Byard was one of Hersch's teachers and he pays tribute to this underappreciated educator, composer and performer by interpreting Byard's Thelonious Monk-ish tribute to saxophonist Charlie Parker's mother, "Mrs. Parker of K.C." Hersch's takes on this type of tune are always a study in contrasts, with his clean and precise touch seemingly at odds with the earthy vibe of the music; but these opposing ideals are part of what makes this performance - and many like it - so compelling. The album ends with "Still Here," a reflective musical jewel that pays tribute to saxophonist Wayne Shorter and his continuing ability to create and inspire. In closing the album with such a title, Hersch might have been subconsciously referencing his own brush with death. Thankfully, he too is still here to continue to create and inspire." -AllAboutJazz
Down Beat (p.74) - 3.5 stars out of 5 -- "[Hersch] plays these with restraint, delicate pedaling and a multi-layered approach that moves gracefully....
JazzTimes (p.60) - "'Snow is Falling...,' the first of six originals on this 10-song set, is piano-music at its most elegant, lyrical and focused."
Personnel: Fred Hersch (piano); Eric McPherson (drums).
Audio Mixer: James Farber.
Liner Note Author: Fred Hersch.
Recording information: Ambient Recording Company, Stamford, CT (01/2010).
Photographer: Luciana Pampalone.
A couple of weeks before the release of Whirl, Fred Hersch was the subject of a long and chilling New York Times Magazine piece by David Hadju. The article related that in late 2008 Hersch, who has suffered from HIV/AIDS-related illnesses for years, had been experiencing symptoms that gradually took his motor functions away -- he became delusional; he couldn't swallow, eat, or drink; and he fell into a coma and began to experience the shutting down of his vital organs. Miraculously, he somehow survived. Apparently, Hersch wasn't ready to die or to stop making music, and Whirl is the evidence, his first recording since recovering from his illness, issued on Palmetto and featuring bassist John Hébert and drummer Eric McPherson. The ten tunes on offer here reflect in Hersch something that, while altogether him (his lyric style is always immediately recognizable), is also more open, less formal, and even more adventurous in terms of tune selection, composition, and improvisation. The three cover tunes include a sprightly, involved reading of Jaki Byard's "Mrs. Parker of K.C." Hersch plays the arpeggios sparklingly clean, and yet allows the funkiness in Byard's knotty melody to shine right through them. His solo reflects elements of his former teacher's iconoclastic language while never allowing his own style to be subsumed. Harry Warren's "You're My Everything" reveals Hersch's elegance without excess. The loose swing of his collaborators gives him room to play with "singing" flourishes in the melody and in his solo. "Mandevilla" is a habanera played with restraint and a very conscious use of its rhythmic implications, playing the melody right through the center without using anything extra, though it is full and beautiful. The title track, dedicated to ballet dancer Suzanne Ferrell, is -- as its title suggests -- a flight of fancy yet deeply focused in its leaps and bounds in modes, meters, and harmonic invention. While there are some wonderful ballads here as well -- "Sad Poet" dedicated to Antonio Carlos Jobim, a reading of the forgotten nugget "When Your Lover Has Gone" -- there isn't anything on Whirl that suggests sorrow or caution. If anything, this is among the most most celebratory and energetically intimate records in Hersch's large catalog. ~ Thom Jurek
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