Fred Hersch & Esperanza Spalding: Alive At The Village Vanguard

In a set ranging from Gismonti to Bobby Troup, Hersch - elsewhere tending to formality - is in relaxed mood with witty scat-singer Spalding


The Village Vanguard club in New York is Fred Hersch’s second home, a place where he has an annual three-week residency and has made five previous solo and trio recordings.  He rarely performs with singers, and since first working with Esperanza Spalding in 2013, their appearances together have been sparse. But never daunted, they took to the stage with no set list or safety net, and only a vague sense of what they would play.

Of course, it all works wonderfully. Hersch is in fine expressive and interpretative form, Spalding revealing just what a fine and witty scat singer she can be.

Their repertoire is strong on standards, although enlivened with some unusual choices, notably Egberto Gismonti’s playful, skittish Loro and Charlie Parker’s rarely heard Little Suede Shoes.

On the opening Gershwin number But Not For Me, Spalding produces an amusing extemporisation on the lyric, examining the changes in language represented by the original’s sometimes archaic terminology, while on Neal Hefti’s and Bobby Troup’s chauvinistic Girl Talk, she scrutinises the words from not only a feminist but also an ecological perspective.

In response, Hersch is spacious and spiky, perfectly matching Spalding’s instant scat utterances note for note on Dream Of Monk and elsewhere, and generally playing as if this was the most fun in the world he could ever have. He can be quite formal as a performer, but here he is wonderfully relaxed (despite the hip operation he was to endure the next day). This is not a side of Hersch we usually hear, which makes this set rather wonderful.

But Not For Me; Dream Of Monk; Little Suede Shoes; Girl Talk; Evidence; Some Other Time; Loro; A Wish (67.32)
Hersch (p); Spalding (v). The Village Vanguard, New York, 19–21 October 2018.
Palmetto PM2208