Fred Hersch Plays Jobim (Sunnyside)
By Michael Katz
Searching for comparisons of the incomparable is a risky business, but you could make the argument that Antonio Carlos Jobim was in many ways a Brazilian counterpart to Duke Ellington. Both had a trove of instantly recognizable hits, yet also had a wider portfolio of beautiful, if seldom heard compositions penned over a lifetime. Pianist Fred Hersch, recognizing this, has recorded a remarkable solo album, Fred Hersch Plays Jobim, applying his classically tinged jazz chops to a cross-section of the Jobim ouevre.
The disc begins with a brief, reflective “Por Toda Minha Vida,” followed by a tune Stan Getz featured, “O Grande Amor.” Hersch’s version has almost a chamber jazz quality to it, gently percussive, with intricate phrasing echoing John Lewis and Milt Jackson winding through almost the entire piece before flowing into the familiar refrain.
Several times over repeated listening I thought of Joao Gilberto’s solo guitar album from the Montreux jazz festival, underlining how Jobim’s music can run the interpretive gamut from raucous Carnaval atmosphere to the introspection of a single soul. Hersch, sticking to his jazz roots, can be elegiac in his readings of “Luiza” and the medley of “Modinha” and the lesser heard, “Olha Maria.” Or he can be bright and samba-like in the more familiar “Meditacao” and “Brigas Nunca Mais,” providing brisk counterpoints to his complex chordal structures.
While some solo piano albums can tax the listener’s attention, Hersch commands attention throughout. In “Insensatez,” with its solemn start giving way to a lovely personal exploration of Jobim’s melody, he reinforces what a masterful player can do with the instrument’s tonal and lyrical range. He closes the disc with interpretations of Jobim standards “Desifnado” and “Corcovado,” the former a jazzier rendition than the cooler Getz/Byrd version, the latter almost a lullaby, pulling a soft blanket over this lovely collection.