Nancy King with Fred Hersch Jazz Standard New York, NY May 9, 2006
A definite anticipatory buzz was in the air around Nancy King and Fred Hersch at Jazz Standard last month. It was much like the happy sound a Broadway audience makes upon arriving for the performance of a newly minted hit musical. In this instance King (a vocalist who until now has mainly been a cult jazz figure on the West Coast) and Hersch (a pianist whose lengthy credentials include accompanying singers as diverse as Renee Fleming and Andy Bey) were celebrating the release of a recording made on the first occasion they'd worked together, two years ago. The set began with Hersch's relaxed intro to "There's A Small Hotel before King joined in, her voice sometimes husky, sometimes high up there. Starting out low-key, Hersch went into a rich, sustained riff before King came back in for a burst of typically expert scatting, Hersch easing back as she took over. The fact that King and Hersch hadn't played together prior to making the recording, and not again until the current gig, added an interesting edginess as they continued discovering each other musically.
King's voice at times can sound like a newly created instrument, maybe a trumpsaxtrombone? On "I Fall In Love Too Easily, she spotlighted each word in "I've been well schooled in the past differently, sometimes suddenly going deep and then shifting with nary a pause to a high, light sound. The impressive thing was the rightness of her choices, those separate enunciations as emotional and musical illuminations, whether a foghorn blast on "too fast or a trombone boom on "I fall in love.... The set was quite a ride, including on a mellow oldie, "We'll Be Together Again, which involved a masterful bit of give and take as Hersch responded keys in hand to each nuance of King's vocal twists and turns. The show closed with a vocalese wham-bam on Miles and Jon Hendricks' "Four. Though it would be a potential minefield of lyrics for a lesser singer, King breezed through it with swinging clarity. The recording also includes "Ain't Misbehavin' and "Autumn in New York, among other gems, as well as "There's A Small Hotel. Clarity, depth and musical know-how abound here. Given the stuff these two pros are giving out live and on disc, it's safe to say they're sure to be in continuing demand.