The widely-acclaimed pianist Fred Hersch has gotten quite comfortable making live records lately, and it’s hard to argue with the results. We were astounded at the pianist’s delicate intimacy that was documented for Alone At The Vanguard and the one-on-one symmetry with guitar wonder Julian Lage captured in Free Flying. And then there’s another Vanguard date with Hersch’s trio, Alive At The Vanguard
That trio, with John Hébert on bass and Eric McPherson on drums, finally returned to the studio for the first time since Hersch’s amazing comeback LP Whirl, and the passage of time has only strengthened the rapport engendered through years of playing together either in concert halls across North America or the finer clubs in NYC. And so, Floating (out July 8, 2014 via Palmetto Records), is a test of transferring the magic made on the bandstand into the sterile confines of a recording studio.
This isn’t another Vanguard recording but having just spent a week there before hunkering down for the session certainly helped matters and ordering the songs like their typical set list in the way the standards and originals are mixed. Thusly, a standard, “You & The Night & The Music” opens the proceedings being recast not harmonically but rhythmically; Hersch’s rolling chords converge with McPherson’s clattering drums to make the song pop.
The covers don’t reappear until the end of the album: “If Ever I Would Leave You” is set to ballad form, and straight-up gorgeous, simply because of the sincerity of the sentiment invested into it by all three. Thelonious Monk’s “Let’s Cool One” is delightfully limber, not a single wasted move on this performance; McPherson plays economically, his cymbal taps perfectly shadowing Hersch’s offbeat cadences.
The rest of the repertoire are new Hersch tunes, and following a tendency of his, all but the title song (another luscious ballad) is a dedication to one person or another. “West Virginia Rose,” is a short through-composed pastoral folk tune that segues straight into “Home Fries,” a Big Easy swing bolstered by the elegance of Hersch. The playing might get increasingly frisky, but Hersch remains light on his feet, as does the rhythm section.
“Far Away” features Hersch’s signature beautifully cascading chords, and Hebert offers tender counterpoints. Dedicated to the promising young pianist Shimrit Shoshan who died way too young, it’s rounded out by some sensitive percussion from McPherson, Shoshan’s husband. The tempo of “Arcata” suggestive of a Cuban rhythm and demonstrates what a tight unit this trio is. Hebert’s bass practically acts as Hersch’s left hand, playing notes that anchor Hersch’s lively, right-handed ruminations.
You won’t get band introductions or applause on Floating, but everything else found on his recent live souvenirs is here. Never mind the studio setting, the highly lyrical and entrancing beauty of Fred Hersch’s piano and his empathetic rhythm section makes this another winning outing for this trio.