In jazz, live and recorded music are forever engaged in an intricate pas-de-deux. The improvisations in front of flesh-and-blood audiences are where the magic happens. Yet without the technology of audio reproduction, all would be lost the instant after each note was created and heard.
This is the standard “creation model” of nearly all jazz: Performances for a live audience are the main event, and recordings—whether made then or in the studio—are necessary yet secondary. But pianist Fred Hersch has devised a new approach in which the music is both created and listened to in social isolation. His new solo album, “Songs From Home,” shows that musicians of Mr. Hersch’s high caliber not only refuse to be stopped by the pandemic, but, in this case at least, can be inspired by it.
If Pandemic Jazz is a new musical genre, it is one defined not only by the circumstances of its creation, but by that of its intended audience. “Songs From Home”—Mr. Hersch’s 11th album of solo piano—consists of 11 songs he recorded in his living room in August. This is music about solitude not only created in social isolation but meant to be listened to in the same way.
In his liner notes, Mr. Hersch states that the eight well-known songs here all have “meaningful lyrics.” And even though he’s playing the songs and not singing them, it’s those lyrics (and the song titles) that he’s interested in. There is also “Consolation (A Folk Song)” by the trumpeter Kenny Wheeler and two of Mr. Hersch’s own originals, “Sarabande” and “West Virginia Rose.” The latter is inspired by his mother and serves as an intro to the traditional “The Water Is Wide.”