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Fred Hersch: Alone at the Vanguard (2011)

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Fred Hersch: Alone at the Vanguard How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.

The beauty of subtle emotion and the glacial calm of Fred Hersch's pianism are so arresting and so captivating that it virtually stops the breath. His mastery of the instrument, coupled with a deep and soulful connection with the joy of music gives Hersch the unique power to both entertain as well as heal the mind with utmost spirituality. This is so rare a phenomenon among musicians that only a handful of them in recent times—perhaps John Coltrane
John Coltrane
John Coltrane
1926 - 1967
saxophone
and Bobby McFerrin
Bobby McFerrin
Bobby McFerrin
b.1950
vocalist
—may have succeeded in connecting the dots between body and soul. The spiritualism of his playing apart, Hersch has flawless technique and expresses himself with nuanced brilliance, unfurling strings of phrases and musical sentences like bejeweled artifacts that come alive at his fingertips, seductively swirling around the room.

Alone at the Vanguard is a stunning album that unravels from one gem of a song to another. It confirms the belief that Hersch is uniquely qualified to play solo. Like Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk
1917 - 1982
piano
, Bill Evans
Bill Evans
Bill Evans
1929 - 1980
piano
, Keith Jarrett
Keith Jarrett
Keith Jarrett
b.1945
piano
, Don Pullen
Don Pullen
Don Pullen
1941 - 1995
piano
, Jaki Byard
Jaki Byard
Jaki Byard
1922 - 1999
piano
, Cecil Taylor
Cecil Taylor
Cecil Taylor
b.1929
piano
and a handful of other pianists, Hersch holds sway from the get go—in this case, from the time his fingers elicit playful responses during the first bars of "In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning." Hersch plays to no pattern. His mind is a hotbed of ideas and they flow like mountainous streams, gathering in force and muscularity as they tumble down the terrain of the song. After stating the terms of the melody in his own voice, Hersch is off on an adventurous gambol along the inner, secret garden of the song. He is apt to discover a topography of new and rapturous beauty. His masterful dedication to Lee Konitz
Lee Konitz
Lee Konitz
b.1927
sax, alto
, "Lee's Dream," unfolds like an ocean of imaginary beings that interact to sing a song of exceeding beauty. His version of Robert Schumann's "Pastorale" is a veritable journey of discovery—both about its composer and his inspiration—complete with awe-inspiring dramatic twists and turns.

Hersch has a fine sense of his place in the history of his art as well. Not only does he appear to owe a debt to late Romantics, such as Schumann, but he also finds himself following the great tradition of bebop including Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk
1917 - 1982
piano
and late boppers such as Sonny Rollins
Sonny Rollins
Sonny Rollins
b.1930
saxophone
. This is not only evident from his choice of repertoire for the date, but his examining of the deep-set rhythms as well as the emotions of that music. The pianist's "Echoes" swings and swaggers with the polyrhythms that characterized this creation of the high art of the Afro-American pantheon presided over by someone like Monk. Thus, Hersch is able to produce this solo work of remarkable beauty and relevance.

Track Listing: In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning; Down Home; Echoes; Lee's Dream; Pastorale; Doce de Coco; Memories of You; Work; Doxy.

Personnel: Fred Hersch: piano.

Record Label: Palmetto Records

Style: Modern Jazz


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