By Don Heckman
There were only two musicians on stage Saturday night in a CAP UCLA performance at the University’s cozy Schoenberg Hall. But no more were needed. The musical encounter between pianist Fred Hersch and guitarist Julian Lage offered a definitive display of jazz improvisation at its finest.
Hersch’s long, musically rich career has showcased him in a far ranging array of settings. He is a prime improviser, a superb vocal accompanist, an intriguing composer and a master of various jazz genres. It’s not surprising that Vanity Fair described him as “The most restlessly innovative pianist in jazz over the past decade or so.”
Lage is more than a generation younger than Hersch. But the 26 year old guitarist is also a musical adventurer, open to new ideas, with a similarly inventive approach to improvisation.
Their performance together at Schoenberg produced an evening of memorable musical delights. Playing material that reached from a group of compelling original works by Hersch to various jazz and songbook items, the duo played with the sort of creative intimacy one recalls from the duo performances of Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter.
The 90 minute program glowed with one highlight after another. Hersch opened the performance with some originals, including a piece dedicated to his mother. Standards on the bill included an especially imaginative rendering of “You and the Night and the Music.” And the interaction between Hersch and Lage was especially responsive to jazz works by Thelonious Monk, Fats Waller and Egberto Gismonti, as well as a captivating dedication to the late Jim Hall..
It was also fascinating to observe the interactive presence of the audience. Responding to every number enthusiastically, they were linked to each of the Hersch/Lage excursions in a rare example of what can happen, at its best, between performers and listeners.
CAP UCLA”s /Executive and Artistic Director Kristy Edmunds – who is responsible for Saturday’s performance, along with an upcoming season of similarly compelling events – has best described how events such as the memorable Hersch/Lage performance fit into the broad concept of her programming philosophy:
“We are all part of a collaborative essentialness in the art of performance,” writes Edmunds, “involved in expanding dialogues that inform our unique experiences.”
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Photos courtesy of CAP UCLA