Fred Hersch Exhibits the Fine Art of the Piano Trio at Old Lyme’s Side Door Jazz Club | Connecticut Public Radio

Fred Hersch Exhibits the Fine Art of the Piano Trio at Old Lyme’s Side Door Jazz Club

Mar 9, 2016

Fred Hersch's poetic expressionism illuminates everything.


On Fred Hersch’s 2014 trio masterwork, Floating (Palmetto Records), the superb pianist/composer opens the session’s creative floodgates with "You and the Night and the Music," infusing the song with streaming contrapuntal lines whose richness, fluidity, and invention make it seem as if there were actually two pianists playing simultaneously.

Overlapping, never repeating, ideas cascade by in torrents of invention, swinging, Bach-like energies whirled without end.

His left and right hands engage in witty, epigrammatic back-and-forth conversations that are so intimate that it almost feels as if you’re eavesdropping on the artist’s most private reflections.

Simultaneously, however, Hersch’s conversation with himself bonds in creative interactions with his empathetic, swift thinking collaborators, bassist John Hebert and drummer Eric McPherson. Spontaneous dialogue, grooves, and lyrical expressions continuously unfold in the moment at the highest level.

You can hear all these elements and more as Hersch leads his trio at Old Lyme’s Side Door Jazz Club on Thursday, March 10, at 8:30 pm, a key stop on his trio tour that includes performances from New York’s Village Vanguard to London’s Aeolian Hall.

For someone new to Hersch’s piano prestidigitation, Floating is an excellent introduction -- a kind of sonic baptism -- prior to seeing him perform his wondrous works live at The Side Door.

Floating is even sequenced the way his trio often plays a live set at a club like The Side Door. It opens with the Dietz and Schwartz standard, followed by original works leading to the penultimate tune, a ballad from the American Songbook, and then to the grand finale, a joyful reading from the Thelonious Monk litany. 

Hersch runs the gamut of emotions from A to Z on the CD’s ten varied pieces. Sounding as lyrically poetic as Keats or Shelley, he’s also as witty, in the lushly textured manner of a S.J. Perelman sketch, or as precisely calibrated, on-target, and succinctly scintillating as an Alexander Pope heroic couplet.

Throughout the album, Hersch’s poetic expressionism illuminates everything from the ethereal, dreamlike title tune, "Floating," to this 21st century romantic poet’s moving musings on "A Speech to the Sea."

For contrast, there’s the pianist’s soulful, downhome, Louisiana-flavored "Home Fries," dedicated to Hebert, who’s from Baton Rouge. And there’s the grandest of grand finales with his spirited, 100-proof, exultantly liberating and intoxicatingly dissonant take on Monk’s "Let’s Cool One."

Hersch’s passion and gift for humor and the sound of surprise explain his aesthetic bond with Monk, who, as a high priest of musical wit, was the Perelman and the Pope of modern jazz. Among gifts shared by Hersch and Monk are their legerdemain with time and space and knack for turning a surprising, clever phrase, juxtaposing unlikely seeming ideas into new, fresh musical metaphors resonating with multiple levels of meaning.

Fred Hersch poses with a toy piano.
Credit Vincent Soyez

Besides the kaleidoscopic range of tonal colors on his palette and deft impressionist brush work, Hersch is also a hard-swinging piano player of soulful depth and width. Yes, deeply lyrical players, even those like Hersch who explore the subterranean depths of dreams and the Freudian unconscious, can also swing hard. 

Besides his mastery of the collaborative art of the trio, he’s also at his best as a practitioner of the solitary art of solo piano, exemplified by his 2014 release, Fred Hersch Solo (Palmetto). His solo and trio playing, he says, are intimately connected, even nourishing one another.  

“I think solo feels equal to the trio in terms of being the hub of my musical wheel,” he has said of the DNA-like connection between two favored formats.  “My solo playing feeds my trio and vice versa. In many ways it’s my most personal form of expression.”

As on Floating, Hersch is in the zone throughout this riveting, live solo performance. It opens with a warm, vital, two-song Jobim medley, and closes with an elegant, lovely, cloud-dappled portrait of Joni Mitchell’s ambiguity shrouded meditation, "Both Sides Now."

Along with two classical sounding originals, there’s an adventurous journey through "Caravan," his extraordinary extrapolation on exotica; a beautiful, rhapsodic celebration of love and youth and spring on Jerome Kern’s "The Song Is You," and an exciting, exquisite, orchestral sounding portrait of Monk’s, "In Walked Bud."

All of this is a delightful preview of what to expect when in walks Hersch and his supporting players on stage for their latest improvised drama at The Side Door. Information: and (860) 434-0886.

Let Salsa Reign!

Ray Gonzalez performing at the Ray Gonzalez Latin Jazz & Salsa Festival.
Credit youtube / Creative Commons

Ray Gonzalez, Hartford’s legendary Latin music pioneer, trumpeter, arranger/composer, bandleader and educator, leads his orchestra on Friday, March 11, at 6:00 pm in what may well be one of the most festive offerings in The Artists Collective’s new Music in the Atrium series.

The Collective’s welcoming atrium comes alive with the sound of salsa and dancing to the music led by maestro Gonzalez. A native of Gurabo, Puerto Rico, the revered bandleader has performed or recorded with a litany of Latin greats, including Tito Puente, Charlie Palmieri, and Johnny Pacheco. Admission: $10.00. Reservations suggested: (860) 527-3205.

The Collective’s ambitious music series showcases Greater Hartford’s talented vocalists and musicians in many musical genres. Its upbeat motto is: “Mix, mingle, hors d’oeuvres, dance, and enjoy!”

Gonzalez pares down to a Latin jazz quartet format next month when he performs again in Hartford on Sunday, April 3, at 3:00 pm in the free Baby Grand Jazz series in the atrium at The Hartford Public Library. Information:

Harpist Noel Wan.
Credit Carl Testa / Firehouse 12 Records

New Uncertainty at Never Ending Books    

The Uncertainty Music Series, a forum for original music of the improvised, electronic, or experimental varieties, presents composer Krists Auznieks’ Thyme performed by harpist Noel Wan, plus a set featuring violinist Erica Dicker on Saturday, March 12, at 8:00 pm at Never Ending Books, New Haven. 

Curated by composer Carl Testa, the long-running series provides a venue/haven for local and regional avant-garde artists who may not have the opportunity to present their challenging work elsewhere. Suggested donation: $10.00.

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