Fred Hersch Plays Jobim

Fred Hersch is a smart musician, and he commences his solo piano tribute to Antonio Carlos Jobim in a typically smart way. “Por Toda Minha Vida,” one of the Brazilian composer’s lovely and durable melodies, is given a compressed treatment, brief, unembellished, free of improvisation. Hersch makes his point: this album will be as much about Jobim’s towering achievements as it will reflect his own considerable pianistic abilities. If not quite the household name that he deserves to be (at least in North America; in his homeland he?s a revered figure), ?Tom? Jobim (1927-1994) remains virtually synonymous with bossa nova, the lulling musical genre that arose in Brazil in the late 1950s. (Our enduring love affair with the music can be gleaned from the success of Diana Krall?s recent bossa-based project Quiet Nights.) For his part, Hersch applies his alternately lyrical and firmly rhythmic touch to some of Jobim’s most popular melodies — “Corcovado,” “O Grande Amor,” “Insensatez,” and “Desafinado” — while avoiding the ubiquitous though (as far as Jobim devotees are concerned) never played-out “Wave” and “The Girl from Ipanema.” He also lights on lesser-known Jobim tunes, including the gently beautiful “Luiza.” Marked throughout is Hersch?s unerring rightness in balancing his own extemporaneous inventions within Jobim?s sturdy foundations; his obvious love and respect for this material fortifies each performance. Supposedly, this album was originally recorded years ago as one of Hersch?s multi-part tributes to favorite composers, back when he was signed with Nonesuch Records. We?re lucky it?s finally reached the light of day.