As I wrote yesterday, five new albums that have seized my attention are scheduled for release this coming Friday, January 6. The second of these was actually anticipated this past June with a preview release of jazz pianist Fred Hersch performing with esperanza spalding. The performances took place at the Village Vanguard on October 19, 20, and 21 of 2018; and five tracks from those performances were released as an EP whose sales benefitted the Jazz Foundation of America in its efforts to assist members of the jazz community impacted by the pandemic. Those tracks were “But Not For Me,” “Dream of Monk,” “Girl Talk,” “Some Other Time,” and “Loro.”
As first reported earlier this month, the full album includes three additional tracks, Charlie Parker’s “Little Suede Shoes,” Thelonious Monk’s “Evidence,” and “A Wish,” composed by Hersch for lyrics by Norma Winstone. This makes for a generous profile of Hersch’s repertoire. Most, if not all, of those selections were probably performed by Hersch at the Vanguard in other settings. I have a personal fondness for “Dream of Monk,” which Hersch performed at the Vanguard in February of 2012, leading a trio whose other members were John Hébert on bass and Eric McPherson on drums.
“Dream of Monk” was originally composed for My Coma Dreams, a multimedia theater piece inspired by a medically induced coma that Hersch sustained in 2008 when he was hospitalized after losing the ability to get out of his own bathtub. The dream of Monk is part of the narrative, and it involves Monk and Hersch challenged by an unknown authority figure to see who can compose and document a new tune faster. Those familiar with the Monk canon will appreciate how that composer’s tropes float in and out of Hersch’s own composition. He would later add the words that spalding would sing during their duo performance at the Vanguard.
All spoken commentary on the 2018 recordings is provided by spalding. This includes what amounts to her talking back to Ira Gershwin about some of his puzzling turns of phrase in “But Not For Me.” This came across as a playful reflection, but it left me wondering whether Gershwin would have balked at what he felt was pure chutzpah. Personally, I took this as a somewhat poignant reminder that turns of phrase seen as clever during the twentieth century now come across as cryptically dated. I was happier when she put words aside, turning instead to the imaginative vocalizations in her interpretation of Egberto Gismonti’s “Loro.”