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 timesperhaps John Coltrane
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
and a handful of other pianists, Hersch holds sway from the get goin 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'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 discoveryboth about its composer and his inspirationcomplete 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
. 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.