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Music review: pianists Fred Hersch and Myra Melford – each, alone

In recent years many improvising pianists have made highly capable, not very memorable, quite-solo albums.  This unforgettable pair are not much alike, but share key virtues.

I have enjoyed solo concert extravaganzas by Keith Jarrett and Cecil Taylor, but Myra Melford provided my life’s so-far most electrifying solo piano experience.

Keith & Cecil’s were “major concert events”, in prestigious Australian theatres.  Myra’s – to circa fifty people in a soon-to-be-demolished, occasional venue in “the world’s most isolated metropolis” – went unnoticed by Perth’s mainstream media.

Geography has so far prevented me from experiencing Fred Hersch in person, but for many years he has also been one of my favourite musicians.

Technically, Fred and Myra are remarkably agile, precise. Neither is a show-off.  Each has a wide musical embrace, but Myra goes further “out”, more often. They are equally imaginative, focused, consistently “there, in the moment”, never merely trotting out “routines”.

Musically, neither likes to “step in the same river, twice”; however many times they revisit a particular composition, the result is never the same.

Bear this in mind when you see/hear the videos at the bottom of this post. Each piece is also”on the album”, but the album versions really are different.

Myra Melford:  life carries me this way

On January 14, 2013 – several days after her 56th birthday – Myra Melford recorded her first absolutely-solo album.

This oft-recorded, wide-ranging, seemingly-fearless musician has a humble attitude to the particular challenge; Myra waited until she considered herself “ready”.

The album’s title comes from a painting by Don Reich (Francis Don Reich, 1931-2010) – a longtime friend of Myra’s family.

He and she had long been mutually encouraging, but never worked together.

Don did, however, give Myra a stack of paintings and drawings to consider… which she did, over many months.

Eventually, Myra began to conceive her musical response.

The pictures are reproduced in the CD booklet.

If I were blind – and unable to have any opinion about the paintings –  I would find this music no less exciting.

Some pieces are sublimely lyrical, utterly unhurried. Others are fierce, startling, surprising.  I very much doubt that any listener would ever be able to correctly identify exactly which are the “composed” and which the “improvised” notes.

Links, additional info

Purchase, via Myra

Artist’s site

This  different site includes revealing interviews.
The video interview on right side of its front page offers a wonderfully vivid, unpretentious explanation of  “free improv” – how it works, and why it can be worth it, for muso and audience alike.

Video in which Mrya talks about this album.

Fred Hersch, solo



Solo is Fred Hersch’s 10th solo piano album. 4 of them were recorded in concert; 3  – including this one – were happy accidents, from concerts not intended as “recording sessions”

It documents an August 2014 gig, when Fred was a couple of months shy of his 59th birthday.

He opens with a very lyrical – but not soggy – medley of  Jobim pieces, then plays Juan Tizol’s Caravan.

A fair question: does the world need yet another version of such a “warhorse”?   To which the affirmative answer is: listen to Fred’s wonderfully spry, alert treatment.

His Caravan is yet another example of something at which he has long excelled:  respecting another person’s song – really addressing it – whilst refreshing it, creatively.

2 of the 7 cuts are Hersch “originals” – one a tribute to Robert Schumann, the other to Suzanne Farrell. Each is true to its title – respectively, Pastorale and Whirl.

You are unlikely ever to hear a more tender version of Jerome Kern’s The Song is You.

As always, he does right by Thelonious Monk.

After Monk’s In Walked Bud, Fred concludes with a song that I like, but which does not obviously lend itself to an 8-minute solo instrumental elaboration – Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now.  As with Fred’s Jobim medley, the result is a beautiful surprise – also tender, not soggy.

Links, additional info

Purchase from Australian distributor

Artist’s site – its “Press” prompt yields an uncommonly good selection of articles.
Like Myra, Fred is very articulate, verbally as well as musically.


Published in 'western' musics instrumental music music


  1. john obrien john obrien

    hi Doug, Myra Melford continues to blow me away with every new recording.always fresh, cliche free music,beautifully challenging.Fred Hersch well i’m not so overjoyed.however, after your passionate comments i will respectfully go in again.did you read my John Prine reply? hope so.

    • Pelidoug Pelidoug

      Hi John,
      Thank you; when Fred is really “in the zone” he is right “up there”, I think. Sometimes on disc he can be “merely highly proficient “, whereas Myra seems to be “in the zone” on everything she releases. Myra is also more “dramatic”, more often; if one is reading a book, she’ll make you look up from it. If you’re not already listening very attentively some of Fred’s equally wonderful playing could “pass by, unnoticed”…but it’s worth noticing! And that’s been true for a long time; his “Thelonious” has remained my all time favourite Monk album since last century.

  2. Thank you also for this ear-opening introduction to 2 pianists I’ve listened to for many years in many different combinations. I’ve loved Myra’s duet projects, especially with woodwind adept Marty Ehrlich on the old ARABESQUE quasi classical-new music label. Such graceful players in tandem and alone, even when Myra goes jagged and outside in her attack. Having been a neighbor of hers in Berkeley for many of the years she’s taught at Mills College in Oakland and when I worked in the jazz & world music room at Amoeba Record & Disc Shop in Berkeley, it was exciting and revealing to hear her play with such ecstatic abandon in so many different varieties of musical styles and with such accomplished musicians in such a wide range of approaches to music & sound.

    Since my relocation to Portland, Oregon I find I avail myself more of following her musical peregrinations via YouTube. The annual visits she’s made to Portland and the Pacific NW to play in combos and bands led by others, most recently and especially drummer Allison Miller’s Boom Tic Boom have become thrilling and memorable events.
    Earlier this month was no exception. As you were kind enough to share your well-considered side-by-side recording reviews of Melford & Hersch (I cannot imagine Joni Mitchell’s early “Clouds” recorded and turned into a hit by Judy Collins as “Both Sides Now” in Hersch’s hands, although the delicacy of his approach bodes well for that addition to Fred’s repertoire) here is my own review of Myra Melford’s performance with Boom Tic Boom in Portland. As writing for an online ‘zine afforded me greater space to explore the muses that attended my preparation for this gig, there are some detours to Melford’s momentous March 2015 residency at John Zorn’s THE STONE on lower east side of Manhattan with a wondrous array of collaborators. Melford’s collaborative tribute with Nicole Mitchell and Tyshawn Sorey to jazz violin pioneer Leroy Jenkins that I stumbled upon on YouTube weeks before her gig in Portland was a very happy coincedence!

    All the best on all fronts,
    Mitch Ritter
    Lay-Low Studios, Ore-Wa

  3. Rosie McDonald Rosie McDonald

    Hi Doug,
    just discovered your site. I’m enjoying listening to your music choices again on the Planet from last night. Brings tears to my eyes to think the program is going as we have been listening in and have been inspired for these past 26 years. Please subscribe me to Pelican yoga. cheers Rosie

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