Nancy King is a jazz vocalist who swings for the fences. An all-out scat master, King possesses all of the elasticity of Betty Carter and all of the panache and control of Ella Fitzgerald. Fred Hersch is a pianist's pianist, the finest ballad-oriented player to emerge from the long shadow of Bill Evans. It's a bit of a mystery why these bright lights had not collaborated before Live at Jazz Standard
. The result is East Coast meets West Coast; left coast cool versus right coast sleek; dense talent colliding in creative critical mass.
King and Hersch showed up at New York's Jazz Standard for a performance as part of Hersch's "Duo Invitation Series. The two artists had not performed together, even in practice. According to Hersch, they united before the performance and picked out songs they both knew and then went out and played. Now, that is jazz! It is no surprise that the lion's share of the songs are ballads.
The duo starts with the angular, Monkish "There's a Small Hotel, which gives way to the pensive "I Fall in Love too Easily. Both ballads are lengthy, allowing the artists to explore their terrain. King uncannily echoes Chet Baker on the latter piece, buoyed by Hersch's impressionistic pianism. Other impressionistic versions of "Everything Happens to Me, "Ain't Misbehavin' and "There will Never be Another You follow later down the road. But all is not balladicCharlie Parker's "Little Suede Shoes shows up with Sammy Cahn's "Day by Day in a medley. King scats the Parker piece deftly in bebop counterpoint with Hersch. The show is capped by lengthy performances of "Autumn in New York and a jumping "Four, with Miles Davis' melody and Jon Hendricks' lyrics.
Jazz is the free spirit of musicimprovisation as instant creation with no second takes, just like life. This freedom of spirit makes this duo performance compelling and special. Music like this erases the distinction between singer and accompanist, placing both artists on level ground.
Visit Nancy King and Fred Hersch on the web.
Personnel: Nancy King: vocals; Fred Hersch: piano.