Concert Review: Fred Hersch & Esperanza Spalding @ Troy Music Hall, 2/5/2023

TROY – Esperanza Spalding is an artist that refuses to be pigeonholed. Her performances and recordings follow her own muse. In spite of this, she is a multi-Grammy award winner including Best New Artist in 2011. Her forays have included music therapy, creating an album live in three days, fusion, and even writing a libretto for an opera. A double threat as both a virtuoso electric/acoustic bass player and singer, her latest album and tour are with veteran and equally accomplished pianist Fred Hersch. Fred is a 15-time Grammy nominee and has more than 50 recordings to his credit.

Fred Hersch and Esperanza Spalding (photo by Rudy Lu)

For this particular tour, Esperanza performs exclusively as a vocalist while Fred Hersch provides accompaniment on piano. Usually, her performances include originals, though she changed direction again by performing songs from the Great American Songbook. Esperanza and Fred put their own spin on it though. The angularity of Thelonious Monk was ideal for their interpretation of his “Monk’s Dream.”

Esperanza Spalding (photo by Rudy Lu)

Esperanza performed with her own visual and spoken commentary and dynamics. George Gershwin’s “Not for Me” gets side commentary on why not. In Charlie Parker’s “Little Suede Shoes,” she spoke about the joy Bird brought to the jazz world when he helped bebop. The dated sexist song “Girl Talk” got nonconfrontational updating by commentary on outdated technology and the songbook. Duke Ellington’s “Prelude to a Kiss” had Ms. Spalding commenting on the multiple emotions experienced in anticipation. The more contemporary Egberto Gismonti composition “Loro” was interpreted as bird songs and was pure scat singing. If one listened closely, it closely mimicked the rhythmic pattern heard in bird song. 

Fred Hersch (photo by Rudy Lu)

To state that Fred Hersch was merely an accompanist would be an understatement of his role in the performance. There was plenty of space in between singing where Fred was working his magic. Fred can use his piano to speak or produce aural paintings. Through little trills and chords and unusual timing, the words and melody come to life. For other examples of this, one can refer to his setting of Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass” to music and vocals from the early 2000s.

Fred Hersch and Esperanza Spalding (photo by Rudy Lu)

Contrary to jazz tradition, Esperanza did not quietly sit during the instrumental passages. She would quietly mouth scat, open and close her eyes, and move her hands and body to the music. This made for a “Have To Be There” experience for the concert.

This performance was the last performance of Esperanza and Fred’s tour which lasted 8 weeks. Considering the multiple interests and busy schedules of both these maestros, one can only hope that this is not the last.

Photo Gallery by Rudy Lu

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