CD review: Fred Hersch Trio

Alive At The Vanguard
Palmetto – PM2159

There is something about the Village Vanguard and piano trios. Looking from the room’s point of view, this pizza slice of a space has  always been such a sympathetic environment for them – whether they are led by a painfully withdrawing Bill Evans in 1961 or a bubbling-over up and coming Brad Mehldau in 1997. And looked at from the pianists’ point of view, there are those who just feel so at home there – the ones who have week-long residencies at regular intervals – Bill Charlap is one, and Fred Hersch is another.

This double disc recorded in February might be Hersch’s finest live work yet in this most magical of club settings (and that’s acknowledging that last year’s solo recording in the same space set the bar ridiculously high).

With him are John Hebert on double bass and Eric McPherson on drums, and it’s a threesome that has settled into that kind of acrobatic trust where each can follow the others’ subtlest twist or turn.

The material is a rich mix of jazz tunes, great American songbook standards and original Hersch compositions. And these latter pieces are exceptionally strong.

Fred Hersch

Take the opener, a Latin roller called Havana. It’s just the right combination of light and dark, throwaway and serious, to get the listener involved. It’s followed by Tristesse, another original and a heart-stoppingly moving tribute to another Vanguard habitué, the late, and really great, Paul Motian.

Whether exploring the jagged corners of Charlie Parker’s Segment, the aching simplicity/complexity of Ornette Coleman’s Lonely Woman, or the healthy array of other Hersch originals, every note just feels right, and feels inspired.

After a brief, musing intro, the band falls in in perfect, rich and luxurious swing for From This Moment On. The rhythm is seductive, the line that Hersch follows and builds with effortless lightness of technique and just plain joy of spirit, is transporting for body, mind and heart. It’s the loveliest experience, and while there may be more amazing musical things, more technically amazing feats happening elsewhere on this album, all that any listener really needs is this kind of bliss.

Fred Hersch hasn’t, if memory serves me correctly, played over on these isles for quite a while, but the good news is he is over here this autumn and appearing solo between 2 and 12 October at various venues, the nearest to me being at The Edge in Much Wenlock on Sunday 7 October. More information here.

Categories: CD review

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