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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Fred Hersch & Esperanza Spalding

Alive at the Village Vanguard

Review by Gary Hill

This is a very unique and intriguing album. Let's just say at the outset that I've included this under progressive rock because of the experimental art music that makes it up. Overall this is considered jazz. It features just piano (Fred Hersch) and vocals (Esperanza Spalding). It's very much outside of the box music, with a lot of the stuff being improvised. I've never heard anything quite like this before, and both of these artists are so talented. They work so well with one another, too.

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Track by Track Review
But Not for Me
Unusual piano dances all over the place on this. The vocals have more of a mainstream jazz approach. The result makes for an artsy and expressive piece of art music. The singing gets more artsy later with some intriguing timings and vibes. There is a killer piano solo later in the tune.
Dream of Monk

While both the piano and vocals were unconventional on the opener, it was the piano that really dominated that part of the spectrum there. It's sort of reversed her. I mean, the piano still gets unusual explorations, but the vocals are really the element that does the most exploration with a healthy helping of scat singing on display. Now, all that said, the piano does get an extended solo section later in the track that allows for some great exploration.

Little Suede Shoes
As this gets started it features non-lyrical vocalizations over a unique piano droning. The track evolves outward from there as the piano gets more involved. More standard vocals, but with improvised lyrics join later. The piano really has some particularly inspired jamming underway further down the musical road. The non-lyrical vocals return later.
Girl Talk
While the piano plays Esperanza talks about hidden meanings in this song. She eventually gets into the actual singing of the tune in a more traditional jazz way. She moves it in different directions from there, though. This is expressive and fun. It's one of my favorites here, really. This is also the longest piece here at over 12 minutes.
I love the cool interplay in artsy styles that brings this number into being. It's possibly my favorite musical section of the disc. There is an intense and rather crazed piano solo section further down the musical path. Esperanza returns later for more improvised vocalizations, and we get into more of that tandem stuff that opened the song.
Some Other Time
Much more of a traditional jazz arrangement is in the driver's seat here. it does get into more experimental territory later, but still manages to stay more mainstream.
This has some of the most unusual and intriguing vocalizations of the whole show. I really like this. It's playful, outside of the box and very expressive. The piano soloing later in the song is so cool. It's artsy, but also moving and accessible.
A Wish
They close the show with a tune that has more of a mainstream jazz vibe, but still enough artsy exploration to keep it interesting.
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