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JAZZ REVIEW | Fred Hersch "Silent, Listening" by Jeff Cebulski

Silent, Listening

Fred Hersch

ECM, 2024.

By Jeff Cebulski | ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️


The title of pianist Fred Hersch’s second album for ECM, Silent, Listening, may explain the

contemplative tone of several pieces that are bookended (with one exception) by his incisive and witty takes on others’ tunes. His first ECM venture, a duo recording with trumpeter Enrico Rava, added to the list of interesting musical partnerships Hersch has created over his forty year album career.

On this album, Hersch could be addressing his life with natural themes that represent the yin-yang of the power of life and death. The motifs and tonal fluctuations have more resonance coming from someone who has faced the specter of death and the sometimes-challenged joy of life’s continuance.

Silent, Running begins with the Strayhorn, Ellington deep cut “Star-Crossed Lovers” from Such Sweet Thunder. After the label’s requisite four-second silence, Hersch plays a single-note entrance that climbs into the melody, floating in and out of emphasis within the airiness of ECM production.

Five improvised excursions follow. “Night Tide Light” is more a tone poem that seems to symbolize a natural drama representing light and dark. “Akrasia,” which means weakness of will in a moral context, sounds again like competing ideas, this time reminding the reviewer of early Jarrett in its lyrical development. “Silence, Listening” ironically starts without silence—the tension displayed suggests an artist in search of understanding.

“Starlight” lifts the emphasis on light upward, away from the teeming shore, leading to some of Hersch’s more lyrical expressions. “Aeon,” a term for an indefinite, lasting period of time, could be a conceit for Hersch’s condition; here it sounds like a meditation on age. Then, perhaps freed from denser thought, the pianist delivers one of his more pleasant compositions, “Little Song,” which has elements applied from classical fare.

Russ Freeman’s often-interpreted “The Wind” adds to the album’s naturalistic themes. Hersch’s gentle treatment is like others’ but with added punctuation that more directly represents the inherent capriciousness that wind brings. The final original work “Volon” follows. If it’s not a remembrance of a commune in France, this could be a tribute to an important drug used in the constant treatment of Hersch’s AIDS-related condition. The first would be another reference to nature; the other a return-to-earth commentary on his relationship to an important but perhaps difficult medication.

The album ends with two of Hersch’s always entertaining interpretations, representing a natural duality. “Softly, As In a Morning Sunrise” arrives trippingly with the joy of another day. “Winter Of My Discontent,” with its dark introductory chord, presents ‘the other side’; it’s a rumination on the continuing struggle.

It’s difficult to write about Fred Hersch’s music without referencing his harrowing and courageous personal history. That I am able to write about his new solo album Silent, Listening is a kind of miracle, given what the pianist has endured. Here, on Silent, Listening, Hersch reminds us that life cannot be contained in a simple context. His personal experience has certainly developed a wisdom and an ethos that carries his music beyond mere acoustics. Hersch is a living example of the power of music to sustain the human spirit.

Hersch plays at SPACE in Evanston in a WDCB-sponsored solo concert, Saturday, June 8. Doors open at 7 p.m.

Fred Hersch, Silent, Listening. ECM, 2024.

Fred Hersch, piano

About Jeff Cebulski

Jeff Cebulski, who lives in Chicago, is a retired English educator (both secondary and collegiate) and longtime jazz aficionado. His career in jazz includes radio programs at two stations in southeast Wisconsin, an online show on Kennesaw State’s (GA) Owl Radio from 2007 until 2015, and review/feature writing for Chicago Jazz Magazine since 2016, including his column "Jazz With Mr. C". He has interviewed many jazz artists, including Joshua Redman, Charles Lloyd, Dave Holland, John Beasley, and Chris Brubeck, as well as several Chicago-based players. Jeff is a member of the Jazz Journalists Association. Contact Jeff at


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