Songs From Home
Covid records. There’ll be many more to come. What to do when you can’t play a show – when you can’t get together with the full band, when you can’t do your job but need to try to make some money; more than that need to connect – to feel, to be able to do your work (paid or otherwise). That’s the spirit behind Songs From Home, the latest from jazz pianist Fred Hersch.
Here he is at the piano. At home. Recording music he loves. Songs he’s written, songs he’s covering – old jazz standards and pop songs too, bits of music from folk and rock and all arranged and performed in that way he has of making something sound so subtly ornate. Which is to say (and mean) that there’s a gravitas and grandness to the arrangements, to the passion and intensity of the playing but it’s also all gentle, lovely, calm and you can hear the room; you feel as though you might be in it. This, again, is a covid album – taking the music right to the people, making the music for the people that care the most about it.
I sit listening to this and wonder, sometimes, if I might just playing opening track, Wouldn’t It Be Loverly ten times. It’s just so beautiful. So perfect. Imperfect actually, which is what makes it perfect.
But – woah! – then, right away, an instrumental reading of Wichita Lineman. The song’s lovely little melody as beguiling and beautiful on its own as when its paired with Jimmy Webb’s intriguing story-lyric. Now I’m thinking I could just play Fred Hersch’s version of Wichita Lineman ten times and feel satiated.
But that would be to miss out on a nearly Chopin-esque rendition of After You’ve Gone, bringing to mind also the stateliness of the way Stephane Grappelli played this tune on his violin.
Joni Mitchell’s All I Want is resplendent here as instrumental and then the return of his Chopin-isms on Get Out Of Town.
The warmth felt in the medley of West Virginia Rose/The Water Is Wide takes this in a Keith Jarrett-like direction.
There’s some of Randy Newman’s ragtime approximation too – including in a sprightly, never ghastly When I’m Sixty Four to close. This is one of The Beatles songs that gets a lot of shit flung at it. Hersch was sixty-four years old when he recorded his rendition (he’s just turned 65) which gives it a free pass instantly. But he has such a way with a song, he’s such an explorer, but so gentle and thoughtful as he goes, that you’ll hear this as something altogether different, something other.
Songs From Home is such a comfort. From such a great player. This is one of my new favourites for this year. And no doubt on from here. Wherever we get to next, and if we make it, I’ll be taking a copy of Songs From Home with me for as long as I can carry it.
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