REVIEW: Fred Hersch Trio at Kings Place (2017 EFG LJF)

"Their ease together was evident from the first tantalising vamp"
Fred Hersch,John Hébert, Eric McPherson
Photo credit: Paul Wood
Fred Hersch Trio 
(Kings Place, Hall One. 18 November 2017. EFG LJF. Review by Mike Collins)

A solo rendition of Valentine was a near perfect encore to Fred Hersch's compelling ninety-minute trio set. It distilled all the expansive, fluid embellishment of harmony; moving, interweaving lines and singing melody into a few hold-your-breath minutes. Its rapturous reception brought him back one last time for an angular jaunt through Blue Monk.

The trio Hersch had brought to the festival was the now longstanding line-up with John Hébert on bass and Eric McPherson on drums. Their ease together was evident from the first tantalising vamp, the anticipation released as the theme of Everyone’s Song But My Own flowed over the surging momentum of the rhythm section. In an interview before the gig Hersch said, ‘I’ve always been interested in inner moving voices and counterpoint… I like melody’. He’s been exploring and developing that interest for more than 40 years as a working musician now and it’s a natural part of the way he speaks at the piano. His first solo was full of long, soaring, melodic lines and then dizzying, intertwining flurries of notes, spiralling on and on. A vamp out at the end, extended the counterpoint to a rhythmic exchange with McPherson’s drums.

A long section of three tunes segued together started with Snape Maltings, a folky, hymn like melody distorted and pulled around by an organic, rubato feel then a longer, free-ish section with conversational exchanges between all three players before a scalding boppish line at breakneck tempo some how surfaced; Hersch’s Skipping. Paul McCartney’s For No One followed, the piano singing to us, before a wonky calypso and then a dedication to John Taylor, Bristol Fog, with bittersweet harmony and a solo of overlapping, angular melodic lines, criss-crossing the piano.

Hébert and McPherson are remarkable partners in the trio, taking relatively few solos, but ever-present in the music. On Cock Eyed Optimist McPherson was like a coiled spring, listening intently as piano and bass generated a headlong groove with a pulsing vamp, McPherson adding smears and clicks in little doses, almost as commentary. When a driving swing finally arrived it was like a dam bursting. On Serpentine an Ornettish, snaking theme with a baggy pulse, the drums were all sizzle and contrast to a twisting dueling interplay between piano and bass.

A ballad and a Monk tune took as to the end, as is Hersch’s wont, and on to the encores and the magic descended one last time. Hersch seems to be in a purple patch in his career at the moment, in terms of recognition as well as creativity. This set made it clear why.

Mike Collins is a pianist and writer based in Bath, who runs the jazzyblogman site. Twitter @jazzyblogman

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