Fred Hersch Trio CD ALIVE AT THE VANGUARD reviewed by Stanley Fefferman

Alive at the Vanguard  with John Hebert on bass and Eric McPherson on drums is the third album pianist Fred Hersch has recorded at the Vanguard, a major NYC  jazz joint for over  75 years.

These sets might or might not bring you into the feeling of the Vanguard’s amazing history, but what does come through are the naturalness of the acoustics, and the smatters of applause included, rather than being a distraction, suggest an audience that possesses taste and knows how to show it.

Hersch carries a sense of history with him, having played with Stan Getz, Art Farmer, Lee Konitz, Joe Henderson, and Jane Ira Bloom. Over the years, Hersch has to admit writers have tended to put him into the “Bill Evans bin…White guy, plays standards and ballads.”

Hersch might be that, but he’s more. The two hours of music on this double CD include seven new Hersch compositions, beside the four American Songbook tunes and seven jazz standards. The trio does an exquisite job of reharmonising classics like “Softly As In A Morning Sunrise”(nod to Sonny Rollins), and “I Fall In Love Too Easily,”(nod to Chet Baker), Alec Wilder’s “Moon and Sand, “Hammerstein/Kern’s “The Song Is You.”

He plays an homage to Charlie Parker’s minor key tune “Segment,” moves the Ornette Coleman/Miles Davis medley “Lonely Woman/Nardis” up to E minor, and Hersch respects Ornette’s way of dressing in his original “Sartorial.” We hear the trio having fun with that lesser-known Monk tune, “Played Twice,”; the Sonny Rollins tune “Doxy” is a fine surprise, and Paul Motian is the dedicatee of Hersch’s fine original “Tristesse.”

Back in the 90’s and Hersch caught me with his album Thirteen Ways   with Michael Moore on clarinets, and that ama-zen-y drummer Gerry Hemingway. From then till now, Hersch makes his piano “sing” with strong harmonic sense; you can feel his distinct rhythmic moves in your body, and he’s got technique, based on years of classical training, that has no bounds.

When his piano sings, especially during “White guy, plays standards and ballads” numbers, my heart soars like a bird. He’s got a way of arranging that lays down melodies that brings back the thrill of first hearing Frank, Rosemary, Ella, Sarah, Shirley, Peggy, Joe, Tony, Mel, the list goes on, sing the words on the radio, and he also breaks the tunes down so that fresh energy flows out of them.

This combination of effects, tradition with fresh breaks, makes this album like  the ice-cream with hot chocolate sauce surprise that made the sad little prince smile.

Fred Hersch Trio. Alive at the Vanguard.Palmetto Records

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