“Welcome to this nice intimate space,” joked pianist Fred Hersch, who then quipped about setting the shot clock for the bass solos, as his trio somewhat reluctantly took the TD Arena stage on Sunday night. The Wells Fargo Jazz performance surely would have been better suited for the intended magical ambiance of the Cistern than a makeshift basketball court, but Sunday night’s soaker didn’t keep Hersch and team from sinking three-pointers and slam-dunks of the musical variety. The space may have been cavernous but the intimacy was there thanks to the tightly woven melodies and expertly dialed-in improvisations.
Hersch launched the program with his composition, “Havana,” a lively and strong number that allowed the trio to jam and shine. Next up was a slinky, rolling melodic piece appropriately titled “Serpentine,” in which bass player John Hébert showed his ability to play every inch of that lumbering instrument, keeping the rhythm, improvising, and fine-tuning his bass all at the same time.
Though Hersch was clearly the point guard, he readily passed off to both Hébert and drummer Erin McPherson, giving them both ample room to do their thing, which, for McPherson, included throwing off sly smiles while dribbling those drums in grooving percussive brilliance.
In addition to numerous nods to Thelonius Monk, Hersch’s genius was most apparent in a lovely riff on The Beatles tune, “For No One.” Taking a lesser-known McCartney composition and initially slowly unraveling it, Hersch explored its nuances and traveled all around the keyboard to gather up all its subtle ingredients before somehow whisking the bits and pieces together again into the melody that the audience suddenly recognizes.
As he does at every concert, Hersch rounded out the program with a spontaneously chosen Monk piece, delivered with the edges sanded off a bit. The trio was at the top of their game, their plays well executed in smoothing out Monk’s typically dissonant angles, and leaving the audience both soothed and jazzed.