Fred Hersch Solo (Palmetto, out Sept. 4): In some ways, it’s remarkable that pianist Fred Hersch is with us to celebrate his 60th birthday, which this new solo CD marks. Hersch’s brilliant multimedia piece, “My Coma Dreams,” recalled and recast the two months he spent in a coma in 2008, the result of pneumonia run rampant, which followed a terrifying bout of dementia caused by the AIDS virus he has battled for 25 years. Five years ago, I sat the kitchen of Hersch’s SoHo loft. “People tell me that my playing is somehow deeper now since my recovery,” he told me. “I can’t judge whether that’s true or not. But I’ve always been determined to be my own man at the piano. And now, I feel even more of a desire to just be Fred.” It is true. And being Fred means being one of the most distinctive and complete pianists in jazz. All that comes clear—perhaps more so than on even Hersch’s previous solo CDs—with “Fred Hersch Solo.”
Luciana Souza Speaking in Tongues (Sunnyside, out 9/18): Born and raised in Brazil in an eminently musical family, Souza has never fully lost touch with her roots. But at 49, having spent half her life in the U.S., she has come to embody an aesthetic within jazz that knows no stylistic or geographic borders. She has also brought a finely honed ear for poetry and literature to her work; she can not only lend deep meaning to a lyric, she knows how to find an exalted lyric where others might not look. Here, Souza works in a worldly collaborative of improvisers: guitarist Lionel Loueke, who grew up in Benin; Swiss-born harmonica virtuoso Grégoire Maret; bassist Massimo Biolcati and drummer Kendrick Scott. Some listeners will hear this music as fusion, and consider Souza’s wordless vocals as scat: But these terms trivialize and misunderstand what’s going on here, which are moments of communion and creation based solely on sounds. Good as those wordless vocals are, Souza shines as always when she turns to great lyrics, as she does on two songs, drawn from Leonard Cohen’s “Book of Longing,” and set to her original music.
Liberty Ellman Radiate (Pi Recordings): Guitarist Liberty Ellman has been a mainstay during the past decade or so of New York’s creative music scene, most notably as a key player in Zooid, the small ensemble led by saxophonist and flutist Henry Threadgill. Threadgill’s music is about the most important and challenging stuff around, and it employs stringed instruments in unusual and critical ways. Ellman has grown into that sound in remarkable fashion, and Threadgill’s Zooid music has grown in remarkable fashion due to Ellman’s understanding of Threadgill’s aims and his ability to articulate its language. None of which should distract from Ellman’s own catalog as a leader. “Radiate” features a sextet that includes one Threadgill alum, Jose Davila (on trombone and tuba) and some of New York’s most compelling musicians (such as trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson and alto saxophonist Steve Lehman). Like so many of his colleagues, Ellman succeeds with his own music not so much because he has internalized the concepts of Threadgill and others, not because he is adept at slippery rhythms and sonic complexity—these things are givens—but because he is a composer, with compelling ideas of his own to share and a circle of friends who can do them justice.
Cécile McLorin Salvant For One to Love (Mack Avenue, Sept. 4): Cécile McLorin Salvant first suggested herself as an exception to the rule—the filed of jazz vocals is barren or wanting—when she arrived mostly as an unknown at the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Vocals Competition, flashed her exceptional talent, and won. On her debut CD, “WomanChild,” in 2013, she lent surprising currency to songs mostly written during the first three decades of the 20th century. At Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Rose Theater last year, before an audience drawn primarily by a collective quartet of established jazz stars such as drummer Jack DeJohnette and tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano, Ms. Salvant stole the night with her opening set. Now 25, Ms. Salvant delivers yet further on this promise with this new CD, which sprinkles complex and sophisticated original compositions with well-chosed repertoire and flashes exalted skills tempered by uncanny restraint.