Upon the release of their new album “Alive at the Village Vanguard,” veteran pianist Fred Hersch and jazz virtuoso esperenza spalding are embarking on a tour to perform selections and offer audiences intimate opportunities to engage with and indulge in the purity of their pared-down sound.
Spalding primarily sings on the album, taking on the role as lead vocalist and putting aside her incredible talent as a bassist and composer. Vocally, she leans on her unique style: airy soprano-ranged singing colored with scatting and interplay with Hersch’s piano, which is stripped down and resembles elements of ragtime and jazz. Although spalding is a modernist artist who has created sweeping afrofuturistic and experimental pieces of music, she and Hersch seem to want to explore jazz at its root, and again, at its purest—the album is completely acoustic: piano and voice.
It’s important to see and hear artists preserving the fundamental expressions of jazz and vintage sounds of Black music. “Alive at the Village Vanguard” makes you feel like you’re sitting in a smokey club in the 1920s. It’s very rare that an album takes time travel backward, creating a setting that you can see, feel and touch the past in your imagination. This album’s nostalgic musical atmosphere and its reminiscent revelations can cause a listener of any age to understand more about jazz and jazz vocals.
The playfulness of the album, the light sumptuousness and animations of the music, bring an enjoyable energy to the album. “Playing with Fred feels like we’re in a sandbox,” spalding said. “He takes his devotion to the music as serious as life and death, but once we start playing, it’s just fun. I like to live on the edge in my music, but I find myself trying things that I usually wouldn’t when I play with him, finding new spaces to explore in the realm of improvised lyrics.”
She added that “I was going through a very difficult time in my life. I was miserable every day when I got to the Vanguard, so I had to decide to plug into the capacity for this music to heal. I wanted to emanate something positive ’though I was feeling so horrible. Neither of us were feeling well in our lives outside of the music, so the stage of the Vanguard became an alchemizing place for both of us. I think you can feel that in the music.”
“This recording sounds like you’re in the best seat in the Vanguard for a very live experience,” said Hersch. “You can really feel the vitality of the room, of the audience and of our interplay. We decided on the word ‘Alive’ for the album title as you can really feel the intimacy and energy of the performances.”
Hersch and spalding are live at Village Vanguard through January 15, at 8 and 10 p.m. Tickets $10. For more info, visit www.villagevanguard.com.