Right before the holidays I traveled up to Seattle to meet with PTA senior contributors Grover Neville and Mohammed Samji to hear Mo’s Wilson Audio/Dan D’Agostino/dCS/Transparent system. Early in the listening sessions, Mo put on an Esperanza Spalding LP and immediately apologized for his current obsession with her, and I quickly put up a hand and made a vague gesture that signified there was no need to explain. Little did I know that in a few weeks I would be swept away by Fred Hersch & Esperanza Spalding’s fantastic new album, Alive at the Village Vanguard. Now it’s my time to obsess.
Pianist Fred Hersch is already the real deal, and has been ever since I started this hobby back in the ’80s. He has a way of sounding like no other jazz pianist when it comes to discovering new paths, and he does so with a lyricism that keeps you continuously engaged. Esperanza Spalding has been on the scene for a few years now, and she genuine stands out from the crowd because she sounds like no one else. She has that mixture of confidence, style and pure talent that, when you hear her for the first time, will make you feel out of touch for not knowing who she is. Plus, her ability to scat and improvise and engage the audience is second to no one. But Fred Hersch & Esperanza Spalding together, on an iconic stage, playing to that small but knowledgeable audience? It’s almost an overload of sheer jazz love.
Much of the astonishing nature of Fred Hersch & Esperanza Spalding’s Alive at the Village Vanguard is the amazing sound captured here. My first encounter with this recording, while that Audio Group Denmark system was chugging along at maximum speed and efficiency, was so shockingly natural and realistic that I realized I was having one of those audiophile epiphanies, a moment of listening where you simply get it. You suddenly understand why we get so obsessive with sound.
What was so special? Was it the greatest sounding recording ever? I’m not sure if I can even come to that capricious of a conclusion about fifty plus years of being an audiophile, but I do know that I’ve never had a greater sense of two musicians, playing together and separately, taking turns and then bouncing off each other, creating something unique on the spur of the moment. Fred Hersch & Esperanza Spalding’s Alive at the Village Vanguard will always remind me as a pinnacle during my time with Aavik, Ansuz and Borresen, but it’s also just as moving and thrilling as I transition to new systems from Burmester and Audio Note. It’s a keeper, and audiophiles should discover this as soon as possible.
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