Fred Hersch Trio, Alive at the Vanguard
Fred Hersch's new double-disc album (on the Palmetto label) might be called Alive at the Vanguard, instead of the customary Live at . . . , for two reasons. First, it's a declaration that Hersch, who's had HIV-positive for many years and not long ago slipped into a coma for six months, is alive. Second, this music is alive: fire-breathing with adventure, dance, spirits of all sorts.
His two post-coma albums before this one, Alone at the Vanguard and Whirl, while strong, had the feel, especially in retrospect, of recovery projects. The new one is something else, the work of a pianistan artistat peak powers. It's Hersch's best album, I think, since his 1999 live solo breakthrough, Let Yourself Go.
The jazz world is flush with great pianists these days, more so than at any time in a half-century, and Hersch, at 56, surely ranks among the top tieralong with Keith Jarrett and Jason Moranand may be peerless in his dexterity with rhythm and rubato.
No living jazz pianist is so adept, I think, at stretching and compressing the pace, and space, of a musical passage, and he does this not as a display of virtuosity but as a journey through a song, so seamlessly immersive, it's as if, for the time he's carving its contours, nothing else in the world exists.
Alive at the Vanguard, 15 tracks from a week's worth of sets at the Village Vanguard last February, features ballads, bop, blues, and up-tempo frenzies; originals, show tunes, and covers ranging from Parker and Monk to Rollins and Ornette Coleman. There's not a clunker in the bunch.
His trio-mates, bassist John Hebert and drummer Eric McPherson, keep up with him at every step, though this band is a piano trio, not an equilateral triangle. A few months ago, at the Jazz Standard, I saw Hersch play in a trio with Dave Holland on bass and Billy Hart on drums. It was stunning. I'd like some label to record that group.
Meanwhile, get this one. It was recorded DAD (engineered by Tyler McDiamond and Geoffrey Countryman, mixed to analog tape and mastered back to digital by A.T. Michael MacDonald), and it sounds very good, too.