Released March 1, 2011
Grammy Nominee for Best Jazz Instrumental Album 2012
Fred Hersch holds the unique distinction of being the first pianist to be asked to play solo at the renowned Village Vanguard in New York City. This recording documents his second and most recent week of performances at the club, November 30 through December 5, 2010. Some say after Fred recovered from his coma, his playing is deeper and more emotional. This album is a testament to that fact.
Hersch is widely considered a genius on the piano. He moved to New York from Cincinnati in the 1970s, earning his credibility as a piano prodigy at Bradley’s. His list of credits as a band leader, co-leader, sideman and soloist are astounding. He has worked extensively with jazz masters Stan Getz, Joe Henderson, and Jane Ira Bloom, Art Farmer, Toots Thielemans, Gary Burton, Bill Frisell, Sam Jones and Charlie Haden and has appeared on over 100 recordings. He is also a three-time Grammy nominee.
1. If the Wee Small Hours of the Morning 7:25
2. Down Home (Dedicated to Bill Frisell) 7:34
3. Echoes 8:26
4. Lee’s Dream (Dedicated to Lee Konitz) 7:06
5. Pastorale (Dedicated to Robert Schumann) 7:05
6. Doce de Coco (Bandolim) 8:09
7. Memories of You 8:39
8. Work 8:47
(Grammy Nominee for Best Improvised Jazz Solo 2012)
9. Doxy 8:04
Fred Hersch: piano
Recorded live November 30th – December 5th, 2010, at Village Vanguard, New York City
Produced by Fred Hersch
If there’s anything left to be said about pianist/composer Fred
Hersch’s resurgence after his 2008 battle with AIDS-related dementia and the
subsequent two-month long coma that entailed the complete loss of motor skills
in both of his hands, it’s this: there is not a single measure of this seventy
minutes of solo piano that requires the slightest bit of apology, disclaimer or
defense. His touch is so varied and sure, his melodic imagination so seemingly
limitless, his abstracted arrangements of these compositions so magisterial
that it seems almost impossible to connect that biographical backstory to the
supple talent on display here. But, certainly, if anyone had any lingering
doubts after last year’s tremendous trio session, Whirl (Palmetto,
2010), Alone at the Vanguard puts them splendidly, luxuriously to
Captured live at the end of a six-day engagement, the real wonder is how Hersch makes it all seem so easy: the ballads sound pulsing, busy and complex, but the up-tempo numbers breathe with a skipping, airy lightness. He is economical in his phrasing, never rushed, and yet he builds each piece almost like an architect, unleashing torrential cascades of notes that spiral from one hand to the other, darting in and out of the deep harmonic beds he lays. Near the end of the set, he is heartbreaking on “Memories of You.” Through eight minutes of hanging melodic variation he forges a fragile ambiance in constant danger of shattering. Then he immediately follows it with eight exhilarating minutes of Monkish abandon on “Work,” where jabbing staccato stride figures jostle with angular, discordant clusters and plunging, raucous blues phrases. In other words, it is a style that contains multitudes.
What truly sets Hersch apart from the pack of technical wizards or sentimentalists nipping at his heels, however, is an unshakable mind able to keep all of these shifting gears turning simultaneously. Take the jaunty, irrepressible swing of “Lee’s Dream.” Built around a circular melody that sooner or later finds its way into every register of the keyboard, it expands and contracts on waves of energy, seemingly pushed further and further out from shore. But just when Hersch seems far gone past the warning buoys, the original theme arrives in bits and pieces, mid-chorus, finally resolving right on time. This is a master at work.
Perhaps it is the proliferation of grace notes, lush left hand harmonies or rubato digressions, but much of Hersch’s music, no matter how technically proficient, has seemed wrapped in a gauzy layer of lyricism. In terms of publicity, this means that his has not been the most commanding presence on the scene. But among a handful of today’s most popular jazz pianists, from Ethan Iverson to Brad Mehldau, entire swaths of work are cribbed almost entirely from a contemporary, composite style forged in Hersch’s laboratory. This performance is a clear-as-day claim-staking by an artist at the height of his powers, a clarion call that all these other latecomers are on notice.
Charles Walker (All About Jazz)