Monika Herzig is a supremely talented jazz pianist/composer/arranger who was born in a small village in Germany. Upon obtaining the chance to come to the United States on a student exchange program, she seized the opportunity to further her jazz studies and now has merited a prestigious position teaching music at Indiana University. Her new enchanting CD is titled Come With Me, and includes a DVD which features several live performances and penetrating background information and interviews with both herself and fellow musicians. The CD exhibits a profound harmonic density with the music manifesting itself on many levels; much like the multiple layers of skin on an onion.
Herzig has divided this splendorous collection between her brilliantly well crafted original compositions and four cover versions of songs from the cream of the crop of American songwriters of the past century. Two of the extremely renowned and highly proficient composers she chooses to honor with her own unique stylized arrangements happen to hail from the State of Indiana (Cole Porter and Hoagy Carmichael). I doubt this to be just a coincidence; judging by the degree of musical intellect that Monika incessantly displays.
Come With Mebegins with a slightly melancholy original composition that encompasses the basics of classic jazz improvisation stabilized with a strutting stand-up bass line by Frank Smith, and archetypal brush and cymbal drum work by Kenny Phelps. The title of this opening composition is "The Pianists Say." Monika gleans the title of this imaginative instrumental from the actuality that her fingers perform the singing/talking function usually reserved for a vocalist. Tom Clark provides some bewitching soprano sax conversation to complement the skilled lead piano windings of Herzig.
The title track, "Come With Me," is a delightful ballad inspired by a poem written by Indiana poet laureate Norbert Krapf. Mr. Krapt's poem was motivated by a story related to him from Monika and her guitarist husband Peter Kienle after a journey they made back to their German homeland. Some consequences of a forest excursion taken by Peter resulted in some anxious moments and fears of being lost. "Come With Me" is a short, but oh so sweet tune sweetened in part by the violin that accompanies Herzig's piano in establishish a very pretty melody.
The Spanish Tango/Salsa rhythm influenced "Olé" bubbles like a pot on a stove approaching a vigorous boil. Violinist Carolyn Dutton leads the way as she reveals traces of Jean Luc-Ponty authority, while Monika on piano, Tom Clark on flute, and the highly infectious percussive rollicking rhythm section blossom together spicily. The song veers in several vibrant directions, but always returns to the strong melody line that ensnares the listener firmly in grasp.
Bob Dylan's classic war protest song "Blowing in the Wind" is given a highly original arrangement that features Monika on piano and renders the original all but unrecognizable. This is not a bad thing, and I believe that Mr. Zimmerman would be thrilled with the rendered result.
Violin snippets of "I've Got Rhythm" are sprinkled into the opening of "Italian Taxi Ride," a classic jazz & swing inspired song that features marvelous ensemble interaction. Dynamic tenor horn bleeps, drum rolls, and spirited piano and bass runs intersect as each instrument traverses its way in a bustle of musical activity.
"Heavy Burden" features some biting fusion guitar courtesy of Peter Kienle. The contrast between his frenzied play and the relaxed piano and saxophone is delectable. Kienle gives the impression of a Spanish bull fight with the bull being his guitar as it kicks on the ground to gain momentum on the charge toward the matador's sweeping cape. The song reminds me of some of the finest jazz inspired music penned by Frank Zappa circa his Hot Rats/Chunga's Revenge period in that the guitar displays an imposing masterful acerbic sting.
My favorite song on the CD transpires when Paul Simon's "Still Crazy After All These Years" is given a sensitive and nobly subdued treatment that renders it especially delectable. The song's yearning atmosphere is thick, often giving an overall impression of a tightrope walker carefully calculating every single perilous step while he trudges bravely onward. The saxophone solo by Tom Clark is grandly divine, and meshes acutely with Monika's keen sensitivity on the piano keys to lift the song to the celestial heights only imagined by the song's esteemed composer.
Monika's gifted fingers deftly glide up and down the piano keys and team with her husband's exceptional acoustic guitar on "Paradise on Ice." The rapture conveyed by this pair is glorious, with the sort of efficient blending only delivered after extended time working together. Herzig confesses a love of skating, and this song does skate along with a commanding presence.
Carmichael's immortal "Georgia" is given a semi-ragtime jazzy arrangement that still allows the inner beauty of the song to come shining brightly through. Perhaps more referenced than any of the songs in Carmichael's canon with the possible exception of "Stardust," Herzig still manages to make it urgently vital, despite the universal familiarity of the tune even amongst listeners born decades after it was written. It is a fitting way to end the disc, with a familiar, yet different take on this enduring classic performed solo on the ivories with heartfelt sensitivity and passion.
Monika Herzig provides confirming evidence on Come With Me that she fully understands how to merge various styles of jazz with both melody and improvisation to gain praiseworthy results. This impressive and inventive work should help her gain notice on a larger scale. If you love jazz and enjoy hearing unique piano interpretations, you should pay heed and take pleasure from listening to what Monika Herzig offers on Come With Me.