Review: Fred Hersch – Silent, Listening – 2024

May9,2024

It took Fred Hersch a long time to begin recording for ECM—four decades and 17 Grammy nominations since his first own-name album—but when he arrived he did so in style. The Song Is You (ECM, 2022), a duo recording with flugelhornist Enrico Rava, reviewed here, was quietly sensational.

The word “recalibration” is often wheeled out when a musician does no more than tweak the chord progression of a well-known tune. However, on The Song Is You Hersch and Rava gently but thoroughly recalibrated five standards, from Thelonious Monk through Antonio Carlos Jobim to Jerome Kern.

Hersch’s follow-up, the unaccompanied Silent, Listening, is also quietly sensational, and sensationally quiet, too. This time out the set list mainly consists of Hersch originals (the covers include lovely readings of Billy Strayhorn and Duke Ellington’s “Star-Crossed Lovers” and Sigmund Romberg’s “Softly, As In A Morning Sunrise,” both played pretty straight). Most of the time, Hersch approaches the keyboard with extreme delicacy, taking gossamer-light flights across the higher reaches of the keyboard. There are times when his touch makes Erik Satie sound almost like John Sousa.

The wonder here, one of them anyway, is that an album as understated and unassuming as Silent, Listening is such a compelling listen from start to finish. But, met halfway, the album holds the listener’s attention completely; by no means is it background music, not by a million miles. Instead, it is a sonic detox, balm for the soul, from a player at the top of his game.

Silent, Listening - ECM Records

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