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January 31, 2014 - 4:14pm

Fred Hersch's piano shines through overpowering trio performance


Palmetto Records

I’ve never been to a live jazz performance before. This is not to say that I was entirely unfamiliar with the genre, but the only exposure I’ve had with jazz is listening to it as dinner music or in music classes. So when I went to go see Fred Hersch Trio perform live this past Thursday, I was caught off guard.

As I took my seat, I looked across the auditorium, looking at other members of the audience. Most were older, eager to listen to (what I assumed) was their version of “rebellious” music. Unsurprisingly, my demographic — college students — was not well represented. This, however, was not what caught me by surprise. Jazz performances, in my mind at least, paralleled classical concerts.

When Fred Hersch took the stage, he gave a brief and tame introduction and started to play. Without any prep time, the trio flooded the auditorium with powerful vibrations from Hersch on piano, John Hébert on acoustic bass and Eric McPherson on drums. Immediately, the most surprising takeaway was made clear: there is stark contrast between a studio recording and a live performance. While studios may have control over the instruments’ volumes, there are no limiting factors in live performances. Unfortunately, this lack of control often resulted in the drums overpowering the soft, melodic piano. In the trio’s first few songs the harsh drums, though still fulfilling their role, sometimes became a distraction.

The distraction of the other instruments held true throughout the performance. Room for other instruments is obviously allowed, but in one of the songs, for instance, several minutes were dedicated to a solo by Hébert that began to drag on too long. Such instances had me wondering whether someone would jump on to the stage and perform spoken-word poetry.

The moments where the piano shined through, however, were the highlights of the entire performance. It’s clear that Fred Hersch is a talented pianist, excelling in classic forms of jazz while also demonstrating his ability to execute a groovy, experimental series of songs. The music was so impressive that one audience member loudly exclaimed “sweet!” after one song. The development of Hersch’s craft was also readily apparent when, in between songs, he explained that he divided the performance into older songs and newer material. He clearly exhibited his versatility, channeling emotion in slower songs and pulsating dance rhythms in others.

For my first live jazz performance, the Fred Hersch Trio was an overall pleasant experience. Hersch’s playing captured the listener’s attention throughout the show while the bass and drums, though not as impressive as Hersch’s piano, did a decent job of complementing his playing .