For more than two decades, the Grammy nominated pianist/composer/educator Fred Hersch has produced musical magic in a myriad of settings, from solo, duo, and trio, to small and large ensembles, that encompass the change and continuity of the jazz tradition. On Live at the Jazz Standard, his return to Sunnyside, where he released some seminal recordings in the eighties (and in 2003), Hersch unveils his Pocket Orchestra : a quicksilver assemblage of outstanding musicians : drummer Richie Barshay (Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Kenny Werner), trumpeter Ralph Alessi (Steve Coleman, Ravi Coltrane) and Australian vocalist Jo Lawry (Renee Rosnes, Lewis Nash) recorded at New York s Jazz Standard in May, 2008. Ralph has been my trumpeter of choice for many years now, Hersch says. He is a creative improviser and has a great sound and he reacts so quickly to what is going on. I heard Jo about a year and a half ago, and was really knocked out by her musicianship, her pure sound, her improvisational skills and her secure way with a lyric. I heard Richie play with some other pianists, and played some sessions with him and it just clicked. He has a great jazz feel as well as being a very personal and diverse percussionist.
You may notice that there is no bassist on this recording. The omission is intentional, and it defines the band s concept. I had done some playing/touring with a group of this same instrumentation in the UK with Kenny Wheeler, Norma Winstone and Paul Clarvis so I knew that the combination would work with the right people, Hersch says. In this context, I can be the orchestra and use the full range of the piano to shape the music. And it frees up my left hand not having a bassist. This group plays my compositions exclusively, and the instrumentation allows for a huge range of styles and vibes.
Indeed, the CD s ten tracks all written by the leader showcase the diverse styles and vibes that Hersch and company so easily and emphatically explore and expound on. Stuttering is a spirited, Monk-like, three-beat 32-bar number, contrasted by Child Song, Down Home, and Lee s Dream (based on You Stepped Out of a Dream ); three songs dedicated to Charlie Haden, Bill Frissell, and Lee Konitz, that are imbued with hues of bop, folk and the blues. Light Years is a beautiful art song about light and photography, featuring the poetry of Mary Jo Salter. Winstone contributed lyrics to A Wish [Valentine], the Wayne Shorter, infant-eyed, Invitation to the Dance [Sarabande], and the Latinesque Songs Without Words #4 : Duet, a track Hersch describes as a duet between different parts of my right hand… The last two selections are new versions of songs originally released in 1986 and 2001. Canzona is another lilting and lyrical ballad written with the phenomenal Belgian guitarist/harmonica virtuoso Toots Thielemans in mind, and Free Flying soars with South American syncopations inspired by the great Brazilian multi-instrumentalist Egberto Gismonti.