The good people at Athenaeum Jazz struck gold on Nov. 11, when Dan Atkinson brought acclaimed New York City pianist Fred Hersch to the Scripps Research Institute for an evening of solid, modern music. TSRI was a sold-out, standing-room-only affair for the Hersch Trio, which featured fellow New York heavyweights John Hebert on bass, and Eric McPherson on drums.
Hersch's style is deliberate with an emphasis on touch, and he began "Havana" with a measured economy that grew in agitation as McPherson's motion became more aggressive.
Hebert is a monster bassist, and his groaning whole-notes breathed life into every measure of Hersch's pensive ballad, "A Speech to the Sea," a piece that established a template for the evening: three independent voices spinning in tangential orbits around a unified conception. Hebert's solo was deep and pliant, maximizing the potential of a rubbery glissandi and McPherson's quiet kinetics opened multidirectional possibilities for Hersch to explore.
The pianist's slinky velocity and jangling intervals outlined the dark humor of "Dream of Monk," and the bassist's svelte timbre illuminated the Latin pulse of "Sad Poet," where the leader's rich ornamental filigree reached maximum depth.
The highlight, for me, occurred in an inspired mash-up of Ornette Coleman's "Lonely Woman," driven by the primal mallets of McPherson, that segued into a very free reading of "Nardis," where the liberation of tempo and harmony brought the group into a stunning and spiritual climax that framed each phrase in gauzy resonance.
Robert Bush Robert Bush is a freelance jazz writer who has been exploring the San Diego improvised music scene for more than 30 years.