Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

A Deliciously Fun Live Duo Album From Esperanza Spalding and Fred Hersch

Musicians have had it worse than just about anybody during the lockdown, but listeners have been on the other side of that equation, at least as far as albums are concerned. Since studio space hasn’t been legally available because of the ongoing paranoia, many artists have been raiding their archives for their juiciest live recordings. One of the juiciest of all of them so far is the duo album by Esperanza Spalding and Fred Hersch, Live at the Village Vanguard, streaming at Bandcamp.

It’s a rare opportunity to hear Spalding on vocals alone. Hersch – who’s put out more great live albums in the past couple of years than pretty much any other artist – loves playing with singers. Bottom line: lyrical jazz heaven. You have to grab this album now – it’s going offline for good at the end of this month.

These are long songs, some of them more than ten minutes. Hersch’s puckish teasing contrasts with Spalding’s wistful but streetwise gravitas in the Gershwin standard But Not For Me: it’s like what Rachelle Garniez might do with it. Hersch’s jaunty, erudite tempo shifts perfectly capture the ambience of the original while competely flipping the script with it. That last slash: wow!

It’s hard to think of a more intuitive interpreter of Monk than Hersch, and he is completely in his element in the album’s second track, his homage Dream of Monk. “We never really knew where his mind was,” Spalding muses about Thelonious Sphere. It’s a coy piano-and-vocalese duel, a challenge to figure out who knows more weird accidentals, and yet, more purist blues.

They have ridiculous fun with a blippy, bluesy jam based on the 50s Neal Hefti hit Girl Talk. Spalding finds double meanings inspired by Mission Impossible and….hmmm….masculine imbalances. “Don’t get it twisted,” she warns. “What’s mundane on the surface is not.”

The two work the standard Some Other Time from skeletal to brassy and close with a lighthearted, comedic take of Egberto Gismonti’s Loro, with some coy inside jokes from the frontwoman (does a duo have a frontwoman?) For experienced listeners who like the most playful side of these two artists, this is nirvana.

June 16, 2020 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Thoughtful, Lyrical Songs Without Words From Pianist Lara Driscoll

Pianist Lara Driscoll isn’t out to blow people away with explosive chops, or perplex listeners with gnomic, too-cool-for-school harmonizations for all the the jazz bean-counters. Instead, she takes a painterly approach to her music. Bill Evans is an obvious comparison, but Fred Hersch‘s mature work is a better one. Her vivid new album Woven Dreams is streaming at Bandcamp.

She and her trio ease their way into the album with a cautiously exploratory, rather wary take of Autumn in New York, skirting the melody as bassist Paul Rushka and drummer Dave Laing supply a lithe, gentle bounce, through an outro full of disquiet. There’s relief in this particular fall, but there’s also peril: this is New York, after all.

Terse high-low contrasts and lyricism ripple over a similarly supple, tropical groove in Siblings, with a smart, tightly clustering drum solo for a coda. Airport Limbo begins with an expected tension, hits a genial bossa-tinted swing and returns to a Monkish intensity: looks like this plane made it off the runway after all.

Forgiving – Black Dog Skirts Away, a triptych, begins with a brooding, troubled tableau, Laing rumbling underneath unti Driscoll finally introduces some closure. The centerpiece shifts from a moody, Ellingtonian, darkly blues-infused sway to a reflectively contented shuffle. A fleeting conclusion reminds that these memories still haunt.

O Morro Nao Tern Vez (Favela) gets a precise interpretation in the same vein as the album’s first track. Driscoll builds an even more pensive atmosphere in Mamy Adieu, a wistful, elegantly elegaic piece, shifting in and out of waltz time. Bass and drums figure more playfully in the jaunty interweave of Trespassers.

Driscoll’s spacious, regal understatement in her solo version of Ellington’s Isfahan is breathtaking: she really likes those flickering upper-register flourishes that Marc Cary uses a lot. Then she and the band make a motoring rumba out of Just One of Those Things before swinging it briskly.

After a moody intro, Driscoll brings disquieitng Monk echoes out in ECMT: with its balletesque, allusively chromatic bass solo, it could be the album’s darkest number. She closes with the title track and its expansive, wee-hours feel, a pervasive restlessness beneath all the lustre. You will be seeing this album on a lot of best-of lists at the end of the year.

April 19, 2020 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lyrical Piano Icon Fred Hersch Hasn’t Played the Vanguard Since January, So He Must Be Back This Month

The Vanguard is pianist Fred Hersch‘s home base, and it’s been six months since he played there. So he’s due, and he’s back for a stand starting on July 23 through the 28th with his long-running, conversational trio, bassist John Hebert and drummer Eric McPherson. Sets are at 8:30 and around 10; cover is the usual $35.

These days Hersch has been releasing almost as many albums as he does weeks at the Vanguard. The latest one, Begin Again – streaming at Spotify – is a real change of pace, a lavishly orchestrated collection of tunes from throughout his career, recorded with German jazz orchestra the WDR Big Band. With his trio, Hersch is all about clever conversations, and playfulness, and singleminded attention to a song’s emotional center. This one, maybe unavoidably due to the sheer size of the project, is more about how much epic grandeur Hersch’s translucent tunes are suited to. Answer: a lot. Vince Mendoza’s arrangements are sharp and often surprisingly restrained. On one hand, given the joie de vivre and humor in Hersch’s writing, it must have been hard to resist the temptation to go completely epic with them. On the other, there’s a lot of gravitas on this record.

The band punches in and out throughout the cleverly dancing, triumphant metric shifts of the opening, title track, with a long, hushed, suspenseful interlude and a coda that’s gone in a flash. Alto saxophonist Johan Horlen rises from a gentle intro to a joyous peak over a lustrously majestic backdrop and Hersch’s steady neoromantic phrasing in Song Without Words #2: Ballad, high reeds and muted brass adding extra lustre.

A lot of Hersch’s vast back catalog doesn’t stay in one place for very long, and the version of Havana here is characteristic, Ernesto Lecuona glimmer followed by a punchy, ebullient jazz waltz with a stormy Paul Heller tenor sax solo. The desolate big-sky intro to Out Someplace (Blues for Matthew Shepard) is chilling; the band’s violence afterward is only slightly less so.

Maybe because of the size of the lineup, Hersch amps up his attack on the fugal lines of Pastorale – a standout, classically-inspired track from his brilliant 2011 Alone at the Vanguard album. The oldest number here is the vividly overcast yet kinetic Rain Waltz, brmming with artful orchestral interpolation orchestra amid Hersch’s incisive articulation. Trumpeter Ruud Bruels’ moodiness and alto sax player Karolina Strassmeyer’s more energetic spot foreshadow a titanic, brassy crescendo .

The album’s longest number, The Big Easy begins with a moody On Broadway sway, then slowly edges toward jubilation, punctuated by trombonist Ludwig Nuss and trumpeter Andy Haderer’s easygoing, coyly muted solos. The bustling, tropically-tinged Forward Motion makes quite a contrast. The album’s final cut is The Orb, from Hersch’s Coma Dreams suite, Hersch working his way cautiously from a uneasy, starlit Lynchian tableau to warm lyricism. Deep stuff from a deep guy.

July 13, 2019 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment