The Fred Hersch Trio’s concert at Middelheim Jazz in Antwerp is no doubt the best of the festival so far.
It started a little tentative and I actually had time to think that this trio is perhaps not always that great live as on all their live recordings that I have heard.
Hersch who is very communicative on stage announced his band members and songs, and the intention of playing a lot of tributes to other artists. They played his own tribute to Antonio Carlos Jobim titled ”Sad poet” before the trio moved through a medley of three songs from their new album ”Live In Europe”. I had no idea that the song title ”Snape Maltings” refers to a place where British composer Benjamin Britten lived before Hersch explained this.
Keeping the British theme Hersch moved to the Beatles’ ”Song For No One” and this was the moment when the concert really lifted from the ground. Hersch played a long solo introduction using only his left hand for a long time and suddenly I become aware of how quiet it was around me in the big festival tent who rooms an audience by the thousands. People were listening that closely to what happened on stage at that moment. The trio never stayed to close to this much familiar Beatles song but rather used it as a spring-board for a beautiful harmonic investigation much in the same tradition as pianist Bill Evans once used Disney songs.
Moving on to Hersch’s tribute to saxophonist Sonny Rollins titled ”Newk’s Calypso” the trio rather explored their rhythmic capacity giving drummer Eric McPherson the star spot with a beautiful melodic drum solo.
Hersch’s tribute to the late British pianist John Taylor titled ”Bristol Fog” is a heartfelt ballad with all the qualities to make it a standard song: a lovely melody and lots of harmonic challenges and possibilities. The star spot is Hersch’s own but bassist John Hebert also gets a solo.
They ended the concert with two songs by Thelonious Monk. Hersch played ”’Round Midnight” by himself finding almost impressionistic Debussy-like qualities in the theme before he was joined by Hebert and McPherson on the typically angular rhythmic ”We See” which also is featured on the new album ”Live In Europe”. The concert ended with a standing ovation and with Hersch returning to the stage to play a brief solo encore of a Billy Joel pop song.
There is much to marvel at for the whole concert. One of them is when Hersch plays almost a whole solo only using the right hand, and when he finally starts using his left hand it is to play an independent contrapuntal line. It is a display of pianistic brilliance.
Hersch has become known for his complete mastery of the piano, and that mastery also extends to being a band leader and programming a concert, it all has a master’s touch. ~ Jazz Desk