295

Fred Hersch: Alone at the Village Vanguard

Dan McClenaghan By

Sign in to view read count
Fred Hersch: Alone at the Village Vanguard
Pianist Fred Hersch almost cashed out back in 2008, when he fell ill with AIDs-related complications and spent seven weeks in a coma. The recovery was arduous, the resumption of his wide-ranging and top-level musical artistry uncertain—an uncertainty erased without a trace by Whirl (Palmetto Records, 2010), a trio set so assured, vibrant and beautiful that it would surely show up in any knowing top ten list of the best piano trio sets of the new millennium's first decade.

There was a subtle change in Hersch's sound, post illness. It's what Hersch's fellow pianist, Jessica Williams (who has suffered her own health problems), calls "illness as a teacher," a focusing of intent and approach from the washing away of the peripheral and unimportant.

Alone at the Vanguard is Hersch's solo piano offering, recorded on the last night of a six-night stand at the hallowed New York club where innumerable jazz greats have held court and recorded performances, resulting in classic albums. Hersch opens his set on a shimmering introduction to "In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning," an old American Songbook jewel that gets buffed up often. Hersch has what it takes to ignore the "never open with a ballad" advice: a supple and exquisitely-refined touch; a sharp focus on the melody; a deep sense of classical harmony; and a magical ability to get inside the tune and make it his own. Hersch's sound here has a uncommon fragility/strength dynamic, and it is serious and cerebral, with an opposing simplicity buoyed by a rich complexity, born of a lifetime's immersion in the music.

On this nine-tune set, Hersch offers up four masterful originals: "Down Home," dedicated to guitarist Bill Frisell, has a jaunty, fun, light-stepping feel; "Echos" is an inward journey, hopeful and lushly harmonic; "Lee's Dream," for alto saxophone legend Lee Konitz, has a sunny, sparkling, playful vibe; and "Pastorale," dedicated to Robert Schumann, draws on Hersch's classical background.

Hersch gives Jacob de Bandolim's "Doce de Coco" a sense of frisky, devil-may-care grace, and he slows down the standard "Memories of You" and turns it into a ruminative prayer.

Almost all jazz pianists like to get lost inside the idiosyncratic tunes of Thelonious Monk, and Fred Hersch is no exception, but few do it as well. His study of Monk's "Work" sounds like joyous play, full of very erudite Hersch-ian turns, fun and at the same time stately, a closer that demanded an encore: Sonny Rollins' "Doxy." Hersch delivers that tune at a measured pace, drawing the sound into a timeless and bluesy wee hours mood, a majestic wrap-up of an exceptional night of music at the Village Vanguard.

Track Listing

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

Personnel

Fred Hersch: piano.

Album information

Title: Alone at the Village Vanguard | Year Released: 2011 | Record Label: Palmetto Records

Post a comment about this album

Tags

Shop Amazon

More

Read The Rise Up
The Rise Up
Mehmet Ali Sanlikol
Read New York Moment
New York Moment
JC Hopkins Biggish Band
Read Pollinator
Pollinator
Matt Ulery
Read Hug!
Hug!
Matt Wilson Quartet
Read Touch & Go
Touch & Go
Susan Tobocman
Read The Ilkley Suite
The Ilkley Suite
Jamil Sheriff
Read Moving Through Worlds
Moving Through Worlds
Fiona Joy Hawkins

All About Jazz needs your support

Donate
All About Jazz & Jazz Near You were built to promote jazz music: both recorded and live events. We rely primarily on venues, festivals and musicians to promote their events through our platform. With club closures, shelter in place and an uncertain future, we've pivoted our platform to collect, promote and broadcast livestream concerts to support our jazz musician friends. This is a significant but neccesary effort that will help musicians now, and in the future. You can help offset the cost of this essential undertaking by making a donation today. In return, we'll deliver an ad-free experience (which includes hiding the bottom right video ad). Thank you.

Get more of a good thing

Our weekly newsletter highlights our top stories and includes your local jazz events calendar.