The Fred Hersch Trio – Sunday Night At The Vanguard – Palmetto PM2183, 68:00 ****:

Fred Hersch is a painter of musical portraits that are infused with tonal color and harmonic depth.

(Fred Hersch – piano; John Hébert – bass; Eric McPherson – drums)

Pianist Fred Hersch is a painter of musical portraits that are infused with tonal color and harmonic depth, all presented within a frame of originality, sophistication, and virtuosity.  His latest trio recording, Sunday Night At The Vanguard continues to demonstrate his commitment to these traits.

As pointed out by Fred Hersch in the brief liner notes, the chosen numbers were derived from the entire first set in order as performed at the club, with the other two tunes coming from the second set. The opening number “A Cockeyed Optimist” was written by Rodgers and Hammerstein in 1949 for the Broadway musical South Pacific. After a run-through of the melody, Hersch and the band embark on an exposition of the number that says they are going to be steadfast inventive partners with smart interplay and proficient fluency.

“Serpentine” begins a series of Hersch original compositions, each of which carves out a textured approach to the music that is layered, expressive, with a crammed copse of consistency. “Blackwing Palomino” might be the most easily accessible as it has a surging rhythmic cushion build by drummer McPherson that pushes Hersch’s improvisational style.

Paul McCartney wrote “For No One” for the Beatles’ 1966 release Revolver. Its original baroque pop approach has been re-interpreted by Hersch as a ballad that has a harmonic tautness that can be explored in a cool fashion in the pianist’s irrepressible style. Jimmy Rowles’ “The Peacocks” was originally presented in a 1975 session of the same name with pianist Rowles and tenor saxophonist Stan Getz in a series of duets  although there were several quartet cuts on the album. In the longest track of this release, Hersch ruminates over the theme, before bassist Hébert and drummer McPherson come in adding their perfectly timed punctuation marks. The synchronicity the group exhibits continues for the remainder of the composition.

“We See” was originally recorded by Thelonious Monk for a Prestige release in 1954, and while it may not be in the top rank of Monk’s efforts, Hersch and his cohorts take it through the quirky chord changes and unusual note configurations with enthusiasm.

The session ends with an original composition from Hersch titled “Valentine”which he performs on solo piano. The number is a charming vignette that captures the pianist’s chameleon approach to this introspective composition.

TrackList: A Cockeyed Optimist; Serpentine; The Optimum Thing; Calligram; Blackwing Palomino; For No One; Everybody’s Song But My Own; The Peacocks; We See; Solo Encore:Valentine

—Pierre Giroux