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Fred Hersch: Alive at the Vanguard (2012)

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Fred Hersch: Alive at the Vanguard Pianist Fred Hersch's two-disc trio date is called Alive at the Vanguard. It's a very efficient title: it manages to say three important things about the album.

On one hand, the title assertively claims the disc's place in the lofty company of other live albums recorded at the legendary Village Vanguard in New York. These parallels are established in Hersch's set list. Saxophonist Sonny Rollins
Sonny Rollins
Sonny Rollins
b.1930
saxophone
' Night at the Village Vanguard, Vol. 2 (Blue Note, 1957), for example, also featured "Softly As In A Morning Sunrise." Hersch's trio, like Newk's, is driven on this number by a strong bass voice (Wilbur Ware
Wilbur Ware
Wilbur Ware
1923 - 1979
bass, acoustic
on the old date, John Hébert on Hersch's). The Hersch trio, just to make the comparison explicit, follows up "Softly" with a masterfully loping version of Rollins signature tune, "Doxy."

Pianist Bill Evans
Bill Evans
Bill Evans
1929 - 1980
piano
' pair of classic 1961 trio dates from the Vanguard, meanwhile, are also echoed, if less directly; "Nardis," a longtime centerpiece of Evans's repertoire, is included here in a powerful mash-up with alto saxophonist Ornette Coleman
Ornette Coleman
Ornette Coleman
b.1930
sax, alto
's "Lonely Woman." Furthermore, there is "Tristesse," a lovely tribute to Paul Motian
Paul Motian
Paul Motian
1931 - 2011
drums
, the drummer on the Evans dates (and who died not long before Hersch's album was recorded); the Hersch tune neatly captures Motian's idiomatic compositional style.

The album's title furthermore distinguishes it from the pianist's previous Grammy Award-winning heavyweight, Alone at the Vanguard (Palmetto, 2011). Indeed, Hersch, a particularly self-sufficient player, tends to be pretty well-suited to the "alone" format: his playing is ornate, baroque and propulsive, like Oscar Peterson
Oscar Peterson
Oscar Peterson
1925 - 2007
piano
's or Erroll Garner
Erroll Garner
Erroll Garner
1921 - 1977
piano
's. His small group recordings increasingly demonstrate his capacity to make room in his whirlwind of notes for other musicians—his fine duet with clarinetist Nico Gori, Da Vinci (Bee Jazz, 2012), being a good example.

On this Vanguard trio date, Hersch is joined by bassist John Hébert and drummer Eric McPherson, members of pianist Andrew Hill
Andrew Hill
Andrew Hill
1937 - 2007
piano
's rhythm section on the excellent Time Lines (Blue Note, 2006), another daunting comparison, away from which Hersch does not shy.

Third, and perhaps most subtly, the title—Alive—is a reminder of of Hersch's recovery from a harrowing health scare, a two-month coma in 2008 brought about by a severe case of pneumonia. Perhaps Hersch is suggesting that life is to be celebrated; if so, the music certainly makes a good case.

That's a lot of meaning to pack in a title. There is much more packed into the recording.


Track Listing: CD1: Havana; Tristesse (for Paul Motian); Segment; Lonely Woman/Nardis; Dream of Monk; Rising, Falling; Softly As In a Morning Sunrise; Doxy. CD2: Opener (for EMac); I Fall in Love Too Easily; Jackalope; The Wind/Moon and Sand; Sartorial; From This Moment On; The Song is You/Played Twice.

Personnel: Fred Hersch: piano; John Hébert: bass; Eric McPherson: drums

Record Label: Palmetto Records

Style: Modern Jazz


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