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 . . .
Fred Hersch, one of the top handful of jazz pianists on the scene, spent several months in a coma last year, owing to complications from HIV, with which he’s been living for well over a decade. When he emerged, he had to teach himself how to play piano all over again—not the technique, but the reflexes, the timing, the coordination—but you wouldn’t know it from Whirl (on the Palmetto label), his first album since the return.
Pianist Fred Hersch plays at the Village Vanguard this week, joined by bassist Drew Gress and drummer Paul Motian. I was at last night’s early set, and it was one of the most bracing I’ve seen in a long while.
I veer away from ruminating on war and peace in my Slate column today, to run down my list of Best 10 Jazz Albums for 2011. My piece over there includes hyperlinks to 30-second sound clips (the maximum that copyright law allows), but here's the list (the more devoted of you readers will notice that I've written in this space about all of them over the past year).
Geri Allen’s new album, Flying Toward the Sound (Motema Music), is a stunner. She calls it “a solo piano excursion inspired by Cecil Taylor, McCoy Tyner and Herbie Hancock.” In jazz pianists’ lingo, this is like Babe Ruth pointing to a spot in right-center field. And she slugs the ball out of the park.
Acoustic Sounds, Chad Kassem’s Oz of analog wonders, has expanded its line of 45rpm jazz reissues to the Impulse! catalogue. Like the Blue Notes, which Kassem and Mike Hobson’s Classic Records have already covered (at 45, 33-1/3, 180g, 200g, black vinyl, clear vinyl, just about any format you might imagine), the great Impulse! albums were engineered by Rudy Van Gelder and featured the masters of their day—Coltrane, Mingus, Rollins, and, one of the most innovative big-band arrangers in modern jazz, Gil Evans.
The pianist Hank Jones died on Sunday at age 91, ending one of the great jazz dynasties (his brothers were the drummer Elvin and the trumpeter-composer Thad) and taking out one more survivor of the generation that founded post-war jazz.
On August 17, 1959—50 years ago exactly—Columbia Records released Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, which became not only the best-selling jazz album of all time but also one of the best jazz albums, period, the spearhead of the “modal” revolution.