Thursday, November 20, 2014

Fred Hersch, My Coma Dreams, Jazz Theatre, DVD

The true artist is one who can take all the experiences life has to offer, the peaks and the lowest traumatic events, and transform them into pure poetry. Jazz pianist-composer Fred Hersch shows us how artistic expression can turn darkness into light, adversity into transcendence. His jazz theater work My Coma Dreams gives us in no uncertain terms the triumph of the human spirit over life-threatening illness.

The entire multi-media jazz theater work is now available on DVD (Palmetto 2175) and it is a profoundly moving experience to see and hear it. The story centers around Fred's bout with HIV /AIDS and a life-threatening septic infection he contracted in the course of his struggles. The condition necessitated a medically induced coma which he endured in a near-death state for a long period of time while hospitalized. That he survived to regain his full self-hood personally and musically is nothing short of a miracle and the story brings it all to you in no uncertain terms.

The jazz theater work involves of course music--Fred at the piano with a largish chamber ensemble of jazz players and a string quartet, with vocals and a master narrative by Michael Winther. There are visuals key to the drama projected onto a backdrop behind the musicians and narrator. The theater work comes together as a total media experience.

Essentially the work combines the narrative of the events leading up to hospitalization, the coma trauma as experienced by Fred's partner, by Fred himself in his moments as a conscious being and then the series of dreams he had while unconscious. The dreams are singular and strange, involving imagery and events of a surreal nature. Except for the opening dream of the weavers, they are played out instrumentally with text and imagery on the projected backdrop filling in the context. The weavers dream sequence involves a beautiful song sung by Winther, accompanied by the ensemble.

Winther excels in his role as dramatic enactor of Fred and his partner's heartfelt, loving anxiousness during the external and internal sequences of events. The music is quite beautiful and just to have Fred up on stage playing wonderfully gives the entire drama a consoling aspect. Yes, he survives and listen, he is playing very beautifully, as well as he ever has.

In the end the totality of the drama leaves you with hope, though through it all are the moments of despair that you experience yourself with harrowing realism. Yet the dreams and the music counter the trauma with genuine poetic beauty.

It is a landmark work, a Fred Hersch masterpiece that conjoins with Herschel Garfein's excellent "libretto" and staging to create gripping drama and a feeling for the mysteries of life and death.

To say it is a tour de force is to understate. The DVD is out this November 25th. You must experience this! Sales of this DVD will in part go to benefit the work of Treatment Action Group, an independent organization concerned with the treatment and cure of the AIDS affliction. You can order it directly from (copy and paste this URL into your browser).

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