Projects

Fred Hersch & Friends

For over 10 years, Fred Hersch has garnered critical acclaim for his intimate duo invitation series at the Jazz Standard in New York. The series culminated at Lincoln Center’s Appel Room in 2016, where the ten-time Grammy nominee enlisted an ensemble of world-class players to perform in a variety of combinations. Fred Hersch and Friends is a special program available for select dates only throughout the 2017-2018 presenting season. The program has previously featured renowned vocalists and instrumentalists including , Julian Lage, Anat Cohen, Kate McGarry and Chris Potter among others.

The new CD from his award-winning Trio, Sunday Night at the Vanguard, is a definitive statement from “one of the major ensembles of our times” (Wall Street Journal).

Solo concerts by the pianist who The New York Times calls “a master who plays it his way” are also available.

 

The Fred Hersch Pocket Orchestra

The Fred Hersch Pocket Orchestra is a distinctive ensemble comprised of piano, voice, trumpet and percussion.  It features the compositions of 10-time Grammy® nominee Fred Hersch, one of the master pianists and composers in jazz today.  The music ranges from virtuoso Brazilian-influenced pieces with wordless vocals to Hersch’s a wide variety of songs with added lyrics by British singer/lyricist Norma Winstone and others. The extraordinary and versatile Australian vocalist Jo Lawry is best known for her many years as the back-up vocalist for Sting’s many international tours – and she was featured in the Academy Award-winning documentary Twenty Feet From Stardom. Mike Rodriguez is one of the premier trumpeters on the New York scene today and has been heard with Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra, pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba and The Maria Schneider Orchestra in addition to his own projects and with his brother, pianist Robert Rodriguez. Brazilian percussionist Rogerio Boccato has played with many of the legends of Brazilian music (Dori Caymmi, Tonhinho Horta) as well as important jazz artists (John Pattitucci and Kenny Garrett).  The group’s previous incarnation (with trumpeter Ralph Alessi and percussionist Richie Barshay) released The Fred Hersch Pocket Orchestra: Live at Jazz Standard (Sunnyside Records, 2009).

 

Leaves of Grass

Music by: Fred Hersch  Words by: Walt Whitman

There are few musicians in jazz — or anywhere else for that matter — more productive, curious and creative than pianist and composer Fred Hersch. In recent years, his studio output has included a collection of audacious solo improvisations, a highly personalized “songbook” series saluting Thelonious Monk, Billy Strayhorn and Rodgers and Hammerstein, and several thoroughly modern jazz collaborations featuring such artists as trumpeter Dave Douglas and guitarist Bill Frisell.

Now comes the mid-size ensemble piece “Leaves of Grass,” an eloquently orchestrated celebration of Walt Whitman’s poetry, vision and, above all else, humanity. Presented at Lisner Auditorium on Saturday night, the concert found Hersch and a nine-member group turning a Whitman’s sampler into a fairly seamless and frequently inspired evening of chamberlike jazz.

Hersch, who composed all the music, was self-effacing onstage. He soloed sparingly, in a typically thoughtful and harmonically inventive manner, and appeared intent on making certain that his contributions quietly served the subject matter. Yet he’s created a suite inspired by Whitman’s sweeping reach, one that blends melodic contemplations and elements of swing, blues, Latin music and the occasional harmonic clash with the rich sonorities of Erik Friedlander’s cello and a horn section capable of embracing both jazz and classical idioms. As the concert unfolded, slides of commissioned artwork by San Francisco painter Marianne Kolb were shown on a projection screen behind the ensemble, adding an intriguing dimension to the performance.

The most challenging roles were assigned to jazz vocalists Norma Winstone and Kurt Elling.  Each managed to bring Whitman’s passionate word craft and towering spirit into sharp focus, steering clear of glib jazz phrasing or meandering passages of scat. Elling, who is well versed in the jerky cadences of beat poetry, abandoned stylistic quirks in favor of a more articulate, measured and lyrical approach. As a result, even fiendishly worded sections of “Song of Myself” (to wit: “stuffed with the stuff that is coarse and stuff’d with the stuff that is fine”) were rendered comprehensible and tuneful. Of course it didn’t hurt that Elling’s baritone has seldom sounded more warm and resonant.

Winstone’s voice, a lovely, wistful, wide-ranging soprano, twined with brass and reeds to create a haunting aura, and cast a quiet spell of its own beginning with “Song of the Universal.”  The British vocalist also contributed an original lyric titled “At the Close of the Day,” a ballad that tenderly complemented Whitman’s whirling rhapsodies and romantic musings.

Hersch chose the Whitman texts, and he didn’t waste the opportunity to vibrantly orchestrate verse teeming with imagery and noise (“the ring of alarm-bells, the cry of fire, the whirr of swift-streaking engines and horse carts with premonitory tinkles and color’d lights”).  In addition to cellist Friedlander, the ensemble performances were consistently enhanced by trumpeter Ralph Alessi, trombonist Mike Christianson, bassist Drew Gress and reedmen Michael Moore and Tony Malaby.  No one, though, was more responsible for shading the moods than drummer-percussionist John Hollenbeck, who used brushes and sticks to marvelous effect.

-Mike Joyce The Washington Post-

 


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