The thing about a Fred Hersch
Trio recording, is that it's like a family meal at your favorite restaurant. While the kids want to start with dessert first, you may want them to enjoy the appetizers and settle in for a delicious meal before the sweets. With Hersch's trio, the last course is almost always a Thelonious Monk
composition. But we are getting ahead of ourselves.
The favorite restaurant here is New York's Village Vanguard, the incomparable club venue. Hersch's piano has been heard there since the 1970s, and beginning in 1996 as a leader and solo performer. It is, perhaps, his trio work that will be his legacy to the jazz pantheon. He has had some impressive trios, including Marc Johnson
& Joey Baron
and Drew Gress
& Nasheet Waits
. His current trio of bassist John Hébert
and Eric McPherson
has had an exceptional partnership for the past seven years. They have produced the critically acclaimed Palmetto Records studio albums Whirl
(2010) and Floating
(2014), and the two disc Alive At the Vanguard
The natural link for listeners is to Bill Evans
' trio recordings at the Vanguard. But as the Monk music Hersch performs will never be mistaken for that of Thelonious, he will never be characterized as an Evans impersonator. He is Hersch. A combination of fearless determination and sensitive interpretation.
This Sunday evening in March 2016, the trio opened with the Rodgers and Hammerstein song from South Pacific, "A Cockeyed Optimist." Hersch, Hébert, and McPherson make the melody flow with an effortless simplicity that belies the complexity of what they execute. Such virtuosity is a credit to the three-way conversation this trio possesses. McPherson's cymbal work on "Serpentine" is that of a colorist, tinting the background for Hersch and setting up Hébert for his most eloquent solo. Only a special trio could so deftly deal out the time-shifting bebop of "The Optimum Thing," the hesitant blues of "Calligram," and a re-imagining of the Lennon and McCartney tune "For No One," that brings home the meaning of the lyrics.
Before dessert, the highlight of the night might be Jimmy Rowles
classic "The Peacocks." Hersch draws out the melancholy of the song to a greater extent than Dexter Gordon
did in the film Round Midnight
. Like a great vocalist, Hersch magnifies a composition with his approach, parsing the pieces with a tenacious restraint.
The trio finishes with Thelonious' "Wee See." The three play with the time signature, freeing the piece from the obvious Monk references without blemishing the composition. Hersch returns to play a brief solo encore "Valentine," his own invention. The lingering notes give you pause, as when the tables are cleared from your favorite eatery, and you know you've just experienced something special.