Fred Hersch Trio ‘97 @ The Village Vanguard – Palmetto Records 58:19*****

( Fred Hersch – piano; Drew Gress – bass; Tom Rainey – drums)

The author Louis L’Amour penned the following quotation: ”A good beginning makes a good end.” Pianist Fred Hersch might just characterize his association with the jazz club The Village Vanguard accordingly, along with the never before release by Palmetto Records of Fred Hersch Trio ’97 @ The Village Vanguard. 

Now stretching back more than two decades, Hersch has been a regular performer at the club heading up a band of one iteration or another. In this July 18,1997 date, it was the first time leading his trio of the moment, and he wished to record the event with no particular plans to release it. However after recently listening to the material, Hersch felt that it had excellent sound coupled with a high level of performance, it should be publicly released.

The eight tracks on this album are a mix of popular standards, classic jazz compositions and original pieces from members of the group. Gary Giddens & Scott DeVeaux in their thoroughly researched book  Jazz ( 2009 W. H.  Horton & Company) suggests that Hersch and other pianists who were born in the mid 1950s are neoclassicists, creating their own narratives as they attempt to forge new techniques.

These characteristics appear evident as Hersch and his cohorts launch into the session with the Cole Porter standard “Easy To Love” which was introduced in the 1936 film Born To Dance. Filled with abundant effervescence from Hersch , bassist Drew Gress lays down a solid beat that keeps Hersch focussed on the musical line which he then follows with an earthy solo. This is succeeded by  propulsive drum break from Tom Rainey, before Hersch takes the tune out with some edgy but astute note striking.

Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart wrote “My Funny Valentine” for the 1937 Broadway musical Babes In Arms. Hersch seems to have a particular affinity with ballads as his melodic instincts and touch let him explore the corners and crevices of the composition. Bassist Gress is particularly thoughtful yet assertive in his solo intervention.

On April 22, 2009, Fred Hersch conducted a lengthy interview with Ted Panken for the blog Jazz.com  during which he discussed the trajectory of his career to that point, including his recordings. One recording discussed was Evanessence : A Tribute To Bill Evans done in 1990 with his then trio of bassist Mike Formanek and drummer Jeff Hirschfield.

Portrait Fred Hersch by JL Neveu

Fred Hersch
Jazz in Marciac 2018 Photo JL Neveu

While much has been written about the stylistic comparisons between Bill Evans and Hersch, it is probably “much ado about nothing”. Nevertheless, Hersch has clearly listened to Evans and he is an endorser of a trio with strong interplay among the members. In a reprise if his own composition “Evanessence” on this session, Hersch features his singular bass player Drew Gress ,much the way both Scott La Faro and later Eddie Gomez created and worked with Bill Evans. The number purrs along effortlessly powered by the certainty that Hersch has in his music.

Another Hersch composition is “Swamp Thang” which is a grungy-groove blend of funk and soul. With a gamy foothold in the genre, Hersch is at ease in this setting as he completes his textured journey of the number.

The final track is “You Don’t Know What Love Is” which was written by Don Raye and Gene de Paul for the 1941 Abbot & Costello movie Keep ‘Em Flying. However the number was dropped from the film before its release.  The number was originally written as a melancholy ballad with the opening couplet “You don’t know what love is/Until you’ve learned the meaning the blues.” However Hersch and the trio have not chosen to interpret it in this way. Rather it is offered as an up-tempo percussive swinger with a repetitive ending intermingling the piano, bass and drums.

In 1995, in a duo album on Sunnyside Records with vocalist Jay Clayton entitled Beautiful Love, Hersch delivers a more traditional interpretation of the composition where the lyrics are meant to tell story of heartbreak and loss.

A stellar addition to an already outstanding body of work.

TrackList:
Easy To Love
My Funny Valentine
Three Little Words
Evanescence
Andrew John
I Wish I Knew
Swamp Thang
You Don’t Know What Love Is

—Pierre Giroux

More Information and Track Samples at Fred Hersch Website and Palmetto Records:

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