Alive at the Vanguard

In the beginning when I listened to Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk their compositions were so unique that when they chose to play—or were, as in Monk’s case, dragooned into playing—standards, the results revealed their genius even more. After several decades of listening to jazz I eventually hit upon a method by which to judge those newcomers who—as the “giants of jazz” passed on—were starting to fill the gap: I judged them on how well they played standards. At 57, pianist Hersch is hardly a newcomer and, with a catalog of more than 30 well-received albums, has easily passed my “test.” On this two-disc set, recorded last February with bassist John Hébert and drummer Eric McPherson, the trio works out on some jazz standards (i.e., a very relaxed version of Sonny Rollins’ “Doxy” and a rarely heard Charlie Parker tune, “Segment”); four “American Songbook gems,” among them a playful “Softly As in a Morning Sunrise”; as well as a batch of Hersch originals that reveal his superb talent, e.g., the lurching rhythms of his “Jackalope.” Hersch pays tribute to Monk by segueing from “The Song Is You” into the middle of Monk’s “Played Twice,” whose theme he perversely (and quite delightfully) plays only once. A magnificent addition to Hersch’s body of work!