Fred Hersch & Esperanza Spalding - Alive at the Village Vanguard / vinyl LP

European pressing

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Alive at the Village Vanguard captures pianist Fred Hersch and vocalist Esperanza Spalding in an intimate yet inventively expressive duo performance. On first glance, the combination of Hersch (a veteran performer known for his lyrical standards work) and Spalding (a virtuoso bassist and singer known for her highly conceptual, genre-bending albums) may seem like an odd pairing. Yet there's an unconventional, somewhat maverick, streak running through both artists, one that balances a core respect for the jazz tradition with a desire to draw inspiration from other mediums like art, poetry, and literature. It's that vibrant combination that Hersch explored on his Walt Whitman-inspired Leaves of Grass album and one which Spalding brought to her own poetry-driven concept albums like Emily's D+Evolution. That adventurous, poetic spirit also drives Alive at the Village Vanguard.

Recorded in 2018 at the storied Greenwich Village club, the album finds the duo communing over a well-curated set of standards that they bend to their boldly expressive improvisational will. While her early work touched upon standards and bossa nova favorites, Spalding's most recent albums (Twelve Little Spells and Songwrights Apothecary Lab) were more experimental in tone, stylistically closer to prog rock and avant-garde singer/songwriter pop. She doesn't play the bass here, choosing instead to dig deep into her vocals and use each song as a springboard to spin out wholly new lyrics and melodies that make each track her own. Similarly, Hersch is unfettered throughout, offering extended intros and instrumental passages that spiral outward and back again with freewheeling bliss.

Together, they seem to magically stumble into unexpected flights of fancy, as when Spalding expounds upon the lyrics to "But Not for Me," analyzing and reframing lyricist Ira Gershwin's Shakespearean word choice with a gleeful sense of irony, singing "'Oh, 'Alas,' I get that one, 'hi-ho,' not so much." Or how she expounds on Neil Hefti and Bobby Troupe's "Girl Talk," reframing the meaning of the song on the fly with a humorous, slyly feminist point of view and bold harmonic asides that Hersch never fails to underscore with his own colorfully wry chords. Elsewhere, Spalding displays her lithe vocal skills, singing Thelonious Monk's "Evidence" in wordless vocalese, punctuating her lines with a modern tap dancer's guttural swagger as Hersch twirls around her. Much more than simply a lively jazz standards album, Alive at the Village Vanguard captures these two jazz kindred spirits in joyous, creative play.



SKU 753957220075
Barcode # 753957220075
Brand Palmetto Records

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