Musicians have had it worse than just about anybody during the lockdown, but listeners have been on the other side of that equation, at least as far as albums are concerned. Since studio space hasn’t been legally available because of the ongoing paranoia, many artists have been raiding their archives for their juiciest live recordings. One of the juiciest of all of them so far is the duo album by Esperanza Spalding and Fred Hersch, Live at the Village Vanguard, streaming at Bandcamp.
It’s a rare opportunity to hear Spalding on vocals alone. Hersch – who’s put out more great live albums in the past couple of years than pretty much any other artist – loves playing with singers. Bottom line: lyrical jazz heaven. You have to grab this album now – it’s going offline for good at the end of this month.
These are long songs, some of them more than ten minutes. Hersch’s puckish teasing contrasts with Spalding’s wistful but streetwise gravitas in the Gershwin standard But Not For Me: it’s like what Rachelle Garniez might do with it. Hersch’s jaunty, erudite tempo shifts perfectly capture the ambience of the original while competely flipping the script with it. That last slash: wow!
It’s hard to think of a more intuitive interpreter of Monk than Hersch, and he is completely in his element in the album’s second track, his homage Dream of Monk. “We never really knew where his mind was,” Spalding muses about Thelonious Sphere. It’s a coy piano-and-vocalese duel, a challenge to figure out who knows more weird accidentals, and yet, more purist blues.
They have ridiculous fun with a blippy, bluesy jam based on the 50s Neal Hefti hit Girl Talk. Spalding finds double meanings inspired by Mission Impossible and….hmmm….masculine imbalances. “Don’t get it twisted,” she warns. “What’s mundane on the surface is not.”
The two work the standard Some Other Time from skeletal to brassy and close with a lighthearted, comedic take of Egberto Gismonti’s Loro, with some coy inside jokes from the frontwoman (does a duo have a frontwoman?) For experienced listeners who like the most playful side of these two artists, this is nirvana.