Fred Hersch & esperanza spalding: Alive at the Village Vanguard
A duo performance recorded at the New York City venue in 2018, Alive at the Village Vanguard—featuring pianist Fred Hersch and vocalist esperanza spalding—is the very definition of intimate. Eight numbers, most of them standards from one era or another, were recorded up close and personal, sans any embellishment, albeit with audience sounds left intact as nature intended. If you want to know what it would be like to have two of jazz’s most gifted practitioners performing a few feet in front of you as you chill on the living room sofa, then this is that. Why spalding—who has officially eschewed capital letters within her name—chose to leave her bass at home this time around is not mentioned in the packaging, and to some extent that’s a shame because she’s one of the most inventive players on the contemporary scene. But her pristine, cleanly recorded vocals more than make up for any holes in the sound—spalding’s fine-tuned expressiveness and sheer force of personality don’t need any more accompaniment than she’s got. When, seemingly spontaneously, she goes off on a tangent at the start of Neal Hefti and Bobby Troup’s “Girl Talk” having to do with Mission Impossible (no spoilers here), it’s not indulgent or intrusive, just fun. When spalding is done with that, she slips into the song effortlessly and does wonders with it, customizing her phrasing with such ingenuity that she practically reinvents the ‘60s chestnut for all time. Hersch, throughout, proves the perfect foil for spalding’s homey renderings, and a masterful co-leader: Together, on tracks as diverse as Thelonious Monk’s “Evidence” and the opening Gershwin number, “But Not For Me,” they find a remarkably simpatico approach, intuiting together when to play it straight-ahead and when to leave all traces of convention outside on 7th Ave.