The Fred Hersch Trio at FlynnSpace

Doug Collette By

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The Fred Hersch Trio
Burlington, Vermont
February 27, 2015

Even when FlynnSpace is completely sold out, as it was February 27th for The Fred Hersch Trio, this downstairs venue never feels crowded. The audience is usually seated, as it was for this frigid Friday night, on three sides of a stage only slightly elevated, so that the performer and the attendees are all on the same level. During Hersch & Co's show, everyone in the intimate venue was on the same plane in more than just the physical sense.

There's an all too rare unity in place shared by pianist Hersch, bassist John Hébert and drummer Eric McPherson, in part because, as declared with quiet pride by the leader, they have played together for six tears. And like that other great piano trio of recent jazz history—Brad Mehldau, Larry Grenadier and Jorge Rossy—these three take the chemistry between them as musicians to higher level altogether precisely because they know each other so well as instrumentalists.

That uncanny camaraderie stood them is especially good stead during a ninety minute set that focused more on variety of composition than open-ended improvisation. As befits the emphasis he places on song, Hersch is a very formal pianist and it's to his credit he prefers a wide variety of tunes including originals, selections from his influences and covers that reflect his predilection for structure. Perhaps that's why, after a pair of fairly quick tunes including "Whirl," the faintest air of predictability wafted through the low-ceiling room as the trio had finished the most extended jam of the night.

Moving from the title track of their latest studio record, "Floating," into what the leader called a 'mash-up' including material from Ornette Coleman and Bill Evans, with one and sometimes two members dropping out altogether as each of the three took turns mirroring and complementing each other, their communal reference points became a bit too obvious by the time an equally transparent conclusion arrived. Hersch and company telegraphed some other climaxes too, although not to such deleterious effect: the flourishes at the end of Jerome Kern's "You" were rousing as were those on an excerpt from a larger piece Hersch wrote based on the poetry of Walt Whitman, "At the End of the Day."

When the performance hits its home stretch, a Thelonious Monk number sounded redundant when the second tune of the night had been Hersch's tribute to the jazz icon "Dream of Monk." But, in an ironic twist, given the fact the three men had conjured a collective mind when they were on stage together, Fred Hersch's solo rendition of his own "Valentine" was the most memorable moment of the concert, played with such perfect, delicate simplicity, it only highlighted the virtues of his own playing as they had meshed with his ever-so-empathetic partners earlier that night.

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