release date: 06.01.2023 on Palmetto Records
Pianist/composer Fred Hersch and vocalist/bassist/songwriter esperanza spalding (stylized in all lower case) celebrate their captivating new album Alive at the Village Vanguard (available January 6, 2023, Palmetto Records) with a 20-date national tour Sunday, January 8 through Sunday, February 5. Due out January 6, 2023 via Palmetto Records, Alive at the Village Vanguard
showcases the astonishing chemistry shared by these two master musicians, who bring out distinctive aspects in each other’s playing. Hersch and spalding have convened for only a handful of New York City performances since their first meeting in 2013 during the pianist’s annual duo series at the Jazz Standard. In that limited time the pair has developed a wholly personal approach, not only in the annals of piano-voice duets but in their own already highly individual practices. Taking the stage with no set arrangements and only a vague sense of the repertoire they’ll explore, the dauntless pair delights in playing without a safety net.
“This recording sounds like you’re in the best seat in the Vanguard for a very live experience,” says Hersch. “You can really feel the vitality of the room, of the audience, and of our interplay. We decided on the word Alive for the album title as you can really feel the intimacy and energy of the performances.”
Alive at the Village Vanguard marks Hersch’s sixth recording from the storied club, where he’s been invited to headline three weeks annually for many years. The album also vividly spotlights Hersch’s stunning sensitivity and engagement as a duo partner; in recent years he’s worked in a similar setting with such incredible musicians as guitarists Julian Lage and Bill Frisell, clarinetist/saxophonist Anat Cohen, saxophonist Miguel Zenón, and trumpet maestro Enrico Rava.
“Playing with Fred feels like we’re in a sandbox,” spalding says. “He takes his devotion to the music as serious as life and death, but once we start playing, it’s just fun. I like to live on the edge in my music, but I find myself trying things that I usually wouldn’t when I play with him, finding new spaces to explore in the realm of improvised lyrics.”
Always a determined original in her own projects, spalding rarely sings standards, and her approach here is unique to her partnership with Hersch. She’s revealed on this outing as not just a phenomenal scat singer but a charming and imaginative improvisational storyteller. The Gershwins’ “But Not For Me” becomes a witty, poetic extemporization on the lyric itself, examining the changes in language represented by the original’s sometimes archaic terminology. Neal Hefti and Bobby Troup’s chauvinistic ditty “Girl Talk” comes under barbed scrutiny from not only a feminist but also an eco-conscious perspective.
“I don’t think anybody’s heard esperanza sing like this,” Hersch says. “She’s a fearless vocalist, and is one of the biggest talents I know. She’s got a huge reach in her intellectual knowledge and is a big thinker in both her projects and in her outlook.”
Hersch’s preternatural reflexes, profound emotional expressiveness and unparalleled gift for interpreting and reimagining repertoire with each new performance are on mesmerizing display throughout the album. His “Dream of Monk” has been a staple of the duo’s sets since the beginning. With lyrics penned by the pianist himself, the tune is a dedication to one of the pianist’s most indelible influences, whose own “Evidence” shows why Hersch is such a revered interpreter of the Monk canon. “Little Suede Shoes” transforms another bop-era classic, spinning a playful update on the Charlie Parker calypso.
“Some Other Time” is a Sammy Cahn/Jule Styne song, less well known than the Leonard Bernstein classic of the same name but a favorite of Hersch, who weaves an elegant and vivid tapestry during his mesmerizing solo. Egberto Gismonti’s “Loro” is launched by spalding’s unconventional scatting, which she eventually uses to engage in a nimble dance with Hersch’s propulsive piano. The album closes with Hersch’s best-known composition, “A Wish (Valentine),” with magnificent lyrics by Norma Winstone.
Though it’s hard to believe given the buoyant spirits and playful interaction of the performances, both spalding and Hersch were working through pain on the October 2018 weekend that this music was recorded. Although the stint ended on a celebratory note with the occasion of Hersch’s 63rd birthday, he was also scheduled to enter the hospital the very next day for hip replacement surgery. “I was in a lot of pain and walking with a crutch,” he recalls. “Just getting down the famous stairs to the Vanguard was an ordeal, but once the music started the pain disappeared completely.”
spalding, meanwhile, was struggling with family issues while juggling an intense schedule that included writing an opera with master composer Wayne Shorter and beginning a teaching position at Harvard University. “I was going through a very difficult time in my life,” she admits. “I was miserable every day when I got to the Vanguard, so I had to decide to plug into the capacity for this music to heal. I wanted to emanate something positive though I was feeling so horrible. Neither of us were feeling well in our lives outside of the music, so the stage of the Vanguard became an alchemizing place for both of us. I think you can feel that in the music.”
Hersch and spalding can both be counted among the most acclaimed and inventive artists in modern jazz. The Village Vanguard is the music’s most revered venue, having played host to countless legendary musicians and beloved live recordings. The duo and the club converge for a magical performance on Alive at the Village Vanguard, a rare opportunity for listeners to enjoy the singular and thrilling collaboration between two marquee jazz artists at the top of their game.
*** BIOs ***
Five-time Grammy Award-winning visionary esperanza spalding aims to ignite and portray various hues of vital human energies through composition, singing, bass playing and live performance. A lover of all music, especially improvisation-based musics emerging from black American culture, spalding’s musical aesthetic is prismatic. With projects like Radio Music Society, Chamber Music Society, Emily’s D+ Evolution and 12 Little Spells, she has inventively combined and reimagined influences from jazz, funk, rock, musical theater and beyond. She has taught at Berklee College of Music and Harvard University, founded the Songwrights Apothecary Lab, and wrote the opera …(Iphigenia) in collaboration with Wayne Shorter.
Performance at 7 p.m. For info visit thecabaret.org.
∙ Tuesday, January 10-Sunday January 15 at Village Vanguard, 178 7th Avenue South, New York City.
8 and 10 p.m. Tickets $50. For information visit www.villagevanguard.com.
∙ Wednesday, January 18 at Alys Stephens Performing Arts Center, Jemison Concert Hall, 1200 10th Avenue South, Birmingham, AL.
7 p.m. Tickets $35-$55. For info call 205-975-2787 or visit alysstephens.org.
∙ Thursday, January 19 at Schwartz Center for Performing Arts, Emerson Concert Hall, 1700 N. Decatur Road, Atlanta, GA.
8 p.m. Tickets $55. For info call 404-727-5050 or visit schwartz.emory.edu.
∙ Tuesday and Wednesday, January 24-25 at Dimitriou’s Jazz Alley, 2033 6th Avenue, Seattle, WA.
7:30 p.m. Tuesday; 7:30 and 9:30 p.m. Wednesday. Tickets $53.50. For info call 206-441-9729 or visit jazzalley.com.
∙ Thursday and Friday, January 26-27 at Yoshi’s, 510 Embarcadero West, Oakland, CA.
8 and 10 p.m. Tickets $59-$99. For info call 510-238-9200 or visit yoshis.com.
∙ Sunday, January 29 at New Jersey Performing Arts Center, Victoria Theater, 1 Center St., Newark, NJ.
3 and 7 p.m. Tickets $69. For info call 888-696-5722 or visit njpac.org.
∙ Tuesday, January 31 at Jefferson Center, Shaftman Performance Hall, 541 Luck Avenue, Roanoke, VA. 7:30 p.m. Tickets $30-$60. For info call 540-345-2550 or visit jeffcenter.org.
∙ Wednesday and Thursday, February 1-2 at The Kennedy Center, Studio K, Washington, DC.
7:30 and 9:30 p.m. Tickets $49-$69. For info visit kennedy-center.org.
∙ Friday, February 3 at Modlin Center for the Arts, Camp Concert Hall, Booker Hall of Music, 435 Westhampton Way, Richmond, VA.
7:30 p.m. Tickets $35, $30 seniors, $10 students and youth. For info call 804-289-8980 or visit modlin.richmond.edu.
∙ Saturday, February 4 at Longwood Gardens, 1001 Longwood Road, Kennett Square, PA.
8 p.m. SOLD OUT. For info visit longwoodgardens.org.
∙ Sunday, February 5 at Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, 30 Second St., Troy, NY.
7:30 p.m. Tickets $39.50-$59.50. For info call 518-273-0038 or visit troymusichall.org.
Palmetto Records – Catalog Numbers: PM2007LP; PM2007CD
Recorded October 19-21, 2018
Release date January 6, 2023