Fred Hersch Whirls Again

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Two years ago, celebrated jazz pianist Fred Hersch was in the throes of a life-threatening, A.I.D.S.-related dementia.  He'd been living with H.I.V. since the mid-'80s, but when the virus spread to his brain, he suffered hallucinations, paranoia, and fell into a coma.

Perhaps the only thing more miraculous than his survival was his recovery.  Two months later, he came out of the coma, but ultimately had to re-learn how to eat, how to hold a pencil, and eventually how to play the piano.  There's not a trace of those setbacks on his new record.

Whirl is Hersch's first outing with his trio (filled out by bassist John Hébert and drummer Eric McPherson) since before his hospitalization.  Yet the characteristic expressivity of his playing remains unchanged: Hersch's technique is always understated, personal, and beautiful.  These compositions employ a certain Bop melodicism articulated with the same delicate charm as Erik Satie's early piano works.  McPherson's drums are a quiet force on the record as well, darting along tight, acrobatic lines that barely ever rise above mezzo forte.  At times he unmoors himself from the tempo, lending an even more airy quality to Hersch's piano, which already sounds as if it's floating somewhere above your head.

'Skipping' is the most energetic and appropriately-named cut on Whirl.  It finds the band bouncing across meters with a lightness and ease that makes every transition seamless.

Hersch stopped by Studio 360 back in 2002.  He told Kurt how the concept of harmony works across a variety of forms of expression: from music, to visual art, and even design.

- Stephen Reader