In 1855, Walt Whitman--arguably the greatest poet the United States ever produced--first published his magnum opus, Leaves of Grass
. Now 150 years later, jazz pianist Fred Hersch has skillfully adapted Whitman's work to music. With a mid-sized ensemble featuring cellist Erik Friedlander
, saxophonist Tony Malaby, and vocalists Kate McGarry
and Kurt Elling
, Hersch, himself a fluid and finessed pianist, takes a back seat to his wonderful arrangements, which encompass martial cadences, hymn-like timbres, Latin rhythms, and ballads. Part VII and Part X of "Song of Myself," the longest work on the disc, range from Charles Mingus
, Scenes in the City
-style effects to a bluesy, down-home slow drag. Clearly, Elling's majestic baritone voice is the centerpiece of this work. He scats like a bop improviser, narrates like a Shakespearean actor, and sings like an opera star. It is fitting that that the elasticity of jazz truly captures the timeless essence of Whitman's words. --Eugene Holley, Jr.