Late spring in lower Manhattan: twilight, taxicabs, the blab of the pave. Downstairs in the Village Vanguard, the Fred Hersch Trio tumbles into a sinuous piece dedicated, the pianist explains, to the late Joe Henderson, with whom he played in this room on many occasions. “Phantom of the Bopera” is a bright-swinging workout, and the group leans into it with abandon. Hersch seems deeply focused, his composure at the piano belying the frenzied tenor of the tune. In semidarkness, dozens of heads bob in time.
It’s hardly an extraordinary scene-the Vanguard has weathered thousands of nights like this one-but for Hersch the gig signals both an overdue reprise and a harbinger of things to come. The pianist, best known for solo interpretations of the American songbook, is introducing a new trio here, and documenting its debut. The results will comprise The Fred Hersch Trio: Live at the Village Vanguard on Palmetto at the start of the new year. And as the group tours exhaustively in spring 2003, Hersch will also oversee the release of Songs & Lullabies (Sunnyside), a selection of his songs with lyrics-and the premiere of his Leaves of Grass, an evening-length suite inspired by the poems of Walt Whitman. “I’ve got a lot of pretty interesting things coming up,” Hersch says, simply and with a satisfied air.