The Fred Hersch Trio
and Trio da Paz
Saturday, June 2, 7 p.m. (doors open at 5:30)
Winery Sponsor – Arbor Bench Vineyards
Event patron – Thomas Sparks
Any honest accounting of the Fred Hersch Trio must arrive at the fact that it is the finest piano threesome since Bill Evans took the form into new dimensions in the late ’50s. But the resemblance stops right there. Though they both are undoubtable geniuses of the piano, Fred sounds nothing like Evans. In fact, Fred doesn’t sound like anyone. In the jazz world, he stands alone.
There are ways to describe his style: sprightly, spare, deeply romantic, elegant, classically infused, precise. But it is what it is for one basic reason: Fred has worked tirelessly, for decades, to eradicate any trace of cliché from his playing. And yes, jazz musicians, even the greatest ones, fall into clichés – it would be almost impossible not do, considering that the art of improvising requires inventing on the spot. What pianist can do this without relying on well-known supports like, for example, contrasting block chords or arpeggios with upper-register cherries on top or bluesy growls or a little salsa rumble? Listen to Fred Hersch and, amazingly, you will find someone who comes very close.
The major signposts of Fred’s legend are well known: Child prodigy who was transposing songs into different keys at age 6. Studied piano with Jackie Byard. Convinced jazz elders like Art Farmer, Joe Henderson, Lee Konitz, and Chet Baker to give him the piano seat in their bands. Came out as gay in the hyper-masculine world of jazz in the ’90s. HIV positive, contracted AIDS, fell into a coma for two months, recovered, wrote a jazz operetta, My Coma Dreams, about it. Set Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass to music. Instructed Brad Mehldau, Ethan Iverson, Jason Moran, others. Recorded over 50 albums in multiple band configurations since his debut in 1985.Fred has worked tirelessly, for decades, to eradicate any trace of cliché from his playing. And yes, jazz musicians, even the greatest ones, fall into clichés – it would be almost impossible not do, considering that the art of improvising requires inventing on the spot.
Considering his penchant for unpredictability, it must not be easy to accompany Fred in a trio, but he found the right pair around 2009 and has stuck with them. Interestingly, bassist John Hebert and drummer Eric McPherson comprised the last rhythm section the thorny piano legend Andrew Hill had before he died, which right there conveys the kind of big-eared versatility these two have.
Rather than merely try to keep up with what Fred plays, Eric sets up thickets of rhythmic motifs that can blossom into forests, setting inviting, tantalizing soundscapes for Fred to dance upon. John – the toppermost of top-call bassists in New York, is a woodsy, elastic player who in the manner of Charlie Haden always hews to the music’s center of gravity – another powerful anchor for Fred. The telepathic communication between these three is thrilling to behold.
That June 2’s “Art of the Trio” night at the Jackson Theater will notch Fred’s ninth time playing the Healdsburg Jazz Festival tells you something about the ambition this operation wields, and the comfort zone it achieves.