An obsessive perfectionist, the pianist Fred Hersch has been polishing his pianism – with this trio of John Hébert and Eric McPherson – for several years. As a result the songs – including those by Thelonious Monk, which are invariably part of his performance programme in the studio or on stage – are not only gleaming gems that he mines time and again, but as he cuts and polishes them again and again we discover new facets as if experiencing a breathtaking “Koh-i-noor” for the first time. As a composer, Mr Hersch writes for the piano idiomatically. He is one of the greatest virtuosos you will ever hear on the instrument, but he is never flashy like some of his contemporaries. He never creates ornamentation for the sake of ornamentation. Rather with hands and fingers sharp and hot he cuts to the heart of the music like a proverbial knife through butter, spreading that which is delicious about the music all around.
Having bonded to the extent of extreme empathy with Mr Hébert and Mr McPherson he is able to do absolutely magical things to melodies, with nuanced harmony and just the most perfect rhythmic push coming from his comrades. Once again – this time on Live in Europe – the members of the trio parley with the familiarity of old friends, yet their playing always retains that sense of gracious etiquette associated with the most noble small ensembles such as the ones of Paul Bley, Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett; veritable academies of Jazz music if ever such a fanciful entity really existed. Nothing is forced or exaggerated or overly mannered; tempos, ensemble and balance – all seem exactly right. Moreover bass and drum sound is lucid, while the piano is sublimely in tune. Songs from “We See” to “The Big Easy” through to “Blue Monk” are, in sum, sincere and poised accounts, a fitting tribute to the composers, their music and to the extraordinary history of the piano or Jazz piano trio.
One can almost see and “feel” the dramatic darkness of the stage in Brussels where this album was recorded as Mr Hersch, Mr Hébert and Mr McPherson unleash their rippling soli and complex boppish runs. Special moments include: when Mr Hersch injects a cinematic quality into “Bristol Fog”, and when the trio launches into the effervescent percussive tumbling groove of “Newklypso” before a loose and funky close to that song. The considerable degree of balance and integration of melody, harmony and rhythm, of composition and improvisation, of exploration, individuality and tradition is impressively maintained throughout this eminently desirable live album.
Track list – 1: Wee See; 2: Snape Maltings; 3: Scuttlers; 4: Skipping; 5: Bristol Fog; 6: Newklypso; 7: The Big Easy; 8: Miyako; 9: Black Nile; 10: Blue Monk
Personnel – Fred Hersch: piano; John Hébert: bass; Eric McPherson: drums
Released – 2018
Label – Palmetto Records (PM 2192)
Runtime – 1:01:49