All About Jazz

Home » Articles » Live Reviews

6

Fred Hersch's Leaves Of Grass at Jazz at Lincoln Center

Dan Bilawsky By

Sign in to view read count
Fred Hersch's Leaves Of Grass
The Appel Room at Jazz at Lincoln Center
New York, NY
September 15, 2017

Walt Whitman's Leaves Of Grass may be the ultimate contemplation on man's commonalities and singularities, underscoring what binds all of humanity and what distinguishes each of us as individuals. And so it's only fitting that Fred Hersch's celebrated musical meditation on the magisterial bard's magnum opus should not only explore said theme, but also amplify it, speaking to the universal in song while highlighting what makes each and every person unique in their very being.

The thematic and poetic umbrella covering Hersch's most ambitious work addresses that line of Whitman's thinking, but so, too, does each riveting moment within the greater whole. Those already familiar with this piece, either from one of a scant few live performances that took place between its 2003 premiere and the present or though the 2005 Palmetto album vividly documenting it in perpetuity, probably knew that coming into this concert, the first of four spread out over two nights. But the uninitiated were likely unprepared for the macro-and micro-level spirit of inclusive beauty endemic to this long-form composition.

Before the concert began, Hersch made certain to pave the way for success in continuity by asking the audience to hold applause typically given out at the conclusion of solos so that the seventy minutes of music could play out as it was meant to, in "one unified dramatic arc." That request was granted without issue and the performance was as close to perfect as things get. While it's one thing to marvel at this music on an album made in a studio which allows for a degree of safety and privacy in the creative process, it's something entirely different—and greater—to see and hear it unfold without pause on a stage. From the opening groove work of "A Riddle Song (Overture)" on through till the end, everything just clicked.

Star vocalists Kate McGarry and Kurt Elling, sharing top billing with Hersch, brilliantly reprised their respective roles from the album and the live performances of this masterwork, tapping into a deep emotional well as only they can. "Song Of The Universal" gave McGarry a chance to shine as she sang to ties that bind through bittersweet tidings and tones, and Elling brought his signature blend of sincerity and sophistication to the fore as he carried the proceedings along through the different parts, poems, and presentations of "Song Of Myself."

The octet on hand largely consisted of the same musicians appearing on the album version of the piece, with only bassist John Hébert, trumpeter Nadje Noordhuis, and cellist Jody Redhage filling vacated chairs. That level of personnel consistency ended up adding another dimension of solidity to this already airtight and artistically unassailable work. Hollenbeck's percussive particularities—a sprinkle of whistling and chiming fairy dust at the dreamy outro of "Song Of The Universal," a regal snare drum announcing Elling's arrival, deep-seated grooves of various shapes and colors—enhanced the moods of the night and steered the ship; saxophonist Tony Malaby and multi-reedist Bruce Williamson weaved, soared, and blended with eyes and ears focused on ensemble balance and personal expressivity; and Mike Christianson's trombone proved to be an indispensable voice, covering the low-middle ground with strength. The newcomers fit in just as well. Redhage painted her rich arco work into the picture with tenderness and class, Hébert provided firm-handed lines and locked perfectly with Hollenbeck, and Noordhuis, one of the most compelling voices to emerge on her instrument in recent years, captured the essence of "The Mystic Trumpeter."

Hersch was engaged throughout, weaving his piano into the mix with an expert touch and discerning taste, but his instrument was rarely the focal point. "At The Close Of The Day," presenting his pensive expressions in pure light, was the primary exception, and a gorgeous one at that. Elsewhere, Hersch typically did his part by acting as conductor and equal contributor within his own creation(s). But he did receive his due when his emotionally resonating take on Whitman's work came to a close. The concert's end was met with a standing ovation, and it was one that was most certainly deserved.

Photo Credit: Frank Stewart

Tags

comments powered by Disqus

Shop Music & Tickets

Click any of the store links below and you'll support All About Jazz in the process. Learn how.

Whirl

Whirl

Fred Hersch
Fred Hersch Solo

West Virginia Rose / Home Fries

West Virginia Rose / Home Fries

Fred Hersch
Floating

CD/LP/Track Review
Multiple Reviews
CD/LP/Track Review
In Pictures
CD/LP/Track Review
Interviews
Live Reviews
Read more articles
Live In Europe

Live In Europe

Palmetto Records
2018

buy
Fred Hersch Trio: Live in Europe

Fred Hersch Trio:...

Palmetto Records
2018

buy
Open Book

Open Book

Palmetto Records
2017

buy
Sunday Night at the Vanguard

Sunday Night at the...

Palmetto Records
2016

buy
Sarabande

Sarabande

Sunnyside Records
2016

buy
Solo

Solo

Palmetto Records
2015

buy

Related Articles

Read The Pittsburgh Jazz Orchestra at Greer Cabaret Theater Live Reviews
The Pittsburgh Jazz Orchestra at Greer Cabaret Theater
by Mackenzie Horne
Published: November 15, 2018
Read Enjoy Jazz 2018 Live Reviews
Enjoy Jazz 2018
by Henning Bolte
Published: November 14, 2018
Read Jazz for all Ages Live Reviews
Jazz for all Ages
by Martin McFie
Published: November 14, 2018
Read Baku Jazz Festival 2018 Live Reviews
Baku Jazz Festival 2018
by Ian Patterson
Published: November 13, 2018
Read Joanna Pascale at Chris' Jazz Cafe Live Reviews
Joanna Pascale at Chris' Jazz Cafe
by Victor L. Schermer
Published: November 13, 2018
Read Moldejazz 2018 Live Reviews
Moldejazz 2018
by Martin Longley
Published: November 10, 2018
Read "Black Flower at Moriska Paviliongen" Live Reviews Black Flower at Moriska Paviliongen
by Patrick Burnette
Published: February 24, 2018
Read "Baku Jazz Festival 2018" Live Reviews Baku Jazz Festival 2018
by Ian Patterson
Published: November 13, 2018
Read "Sligo Jazz Project 2018: Days 1-2" Live Reviews Sligo Jazz Project 2018: Days 1-2
by James Fleming
Published: August 18, 2018
Read "Not Two...But Twenty! Festival" Live Reviews Not Two...But Twenty! Festival
by John Sharpe
Published: October 13, 2018
Read "Dixie Dregs at Lincoln Theatre" Live Reviews Dixie Dregs at Lincoln Theatre
by Eric Thiessen
Published: March 18, 2018
Read "Supersonic 2018" Live Reviews Supersonic 2018
by Martin Longley
Published: October 23, 2018