There's no arguing the considerable merits of pianist Fred Hersch
's Alive at the Vanguard
(Palmetto Records, 2012) or his Alone at the Vanguard
(Palmetto Records, 2011), trio and solo efforts respectively, both recorded live at the legendary Village Vanguard, home of so many classic live sets. Hersch is at the height of his artistic powers in the place. It seems a consensus opinion that "Live" is better, an idea that has picked up credibility with the technical evolution resulting in very nearly studio quality sound for the documentation of concert recordings. No more murky sonics injected with those "tinkling ice, background chatter" crowd noises that can be heard on so many of the live offerings from yesteryear.
But let's not downplay the studio, especially in Hersch's case. His Whirl
(Palmetto Records 2010) isn't Hersch's most lauded recordingthat accolade probably goes to his ambitious larger ensemble offering Leaves of Grass
(Palmetto Records, 2005). But Whirl
is a studio piano trio recording put together to perfection to simulate a tight live set. And Floating
is more of that, with the same trioHersch joined by John Hebert
on bass and drummer Eric McPherson
going even deep in that mode of operation.
The trio opens with a touchstone, the familiar "You and the Night and the Music," laid down in an unfamiliar wayspiced up and rollicking. Saucy. A version to bring a smile, that gives way to the title tune, a Hersch original. The sound is a fluid, frictionless momentum that does indeed evoke the sensation of weightlessness, of notes floating on clouds. Music played on the moon.
Hersch is a marvelous tune-smith, writing in a variety of styles and moods, while maintaining the cohesion of the "set." "West Virginia Rose," dedicated to Hersch's mother and grandmother, plays with Appalachian themes. "Home Fries" slides down south to Louisiana with its second line New Orleans feel, and is dedicated to bassist Hebert, who hails from the Baton Rouge. The trio really lets go and lets it rip on the tune, before moving into the wistful, delicately drawn "Far Away," a piece that Hersch wrote for the late Israeli pianist Shimrit Shoshan. The pianist's touch here is deft and delicate beside McPherson's subtle brushwork and Hebert's steady, dreamy patience on the bass.
Three more distinctive originals are played out before the trio shifts back to the familiar, with a gorgeous, understated version of Lerner and Lowes' "If Ever I Would Leave You," and then closing with Thelonious Monk
's "Let's Cool One," sounding refined and playful and devil-may-care on this perfect close out to a superb piano trio set.