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
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.