The Fred Hersch Trio

By Ray Rizzo

Having worked together for the turn of at least two CDs now (Dancing in the Dark and The Fred Hersch Trio Plays), bassist Drew Gress, drummer Tom Rainey and pianist Fred Hersch have set a direction quite the inverse of many hardworking creative outfits: They have gone from performing original compositions (written by Hersch) back to exploring the palate of jazz standards. Their October 17 Jazz Society concert at the Silo followed suit.

In fact, within the two healthy sets offered that evening, there were only two Hersch compositions, "Saraband," and the Latin-pop inspired "Heart Song." Although both pieces confirmed Hersch's ability as a writer, his true range, as well as the extensive dynamic of the trio, was best witnessed when playing other people's songs.

From the opening torch under "The Man I Love" and its inspired segue into "My Funny Valentine," Hersch, Gress and Rainey displayed the intimacy and intensity of musicians who listen for and know each other's moves. From this knowledge came a sense of orchestration under the solos that flavored much of the trio's character. Their collective effort often surpassed an awareness of measure and song form into executions of sonic waves and flurries.

Such power over song was evident with their treatment of "I Fall In Love Too Easily" and "Bye Bye Blackbird." Hersch's sparse treatment of the melody in the latter, at times only hinting at its existence, allowed from Gress' solo to establish the song's fresh direction, enriching the piece not just for the listeners, but for the band as well.

Their arranging was no less stunning, with an Afro-Cuban reworking of "You Don't Know What Love Is" and the evening's highlight of what Hersch described as a "suite" consisting of Ornette Coleman's "Lonely Woman" and the Bill Evans classic "Nardis." During the piece, the trio embarked effortlessly into movements that illuminated the three as gifted soloists, developing sections that came straight from a Mingus-style abandon, with pedal points and shifting time signatures that came as quickly as their melodic ideas.

The Fred Hersch Trio pick up where Wynton Marsalis' "Marsalis Standard Time" left off, furthering the scope of jazz performance within the confines of traditional song. Their own ability for new ground comes from a sincere reverence for the songs they play and a faithfulness that never reduces them to showcases of technique. The results were such inspired moments as the humorous drum and piano intro to Monk's "Evidence": performer and song (composer) working together. Everyone benefited.

Hersch's meditative focus and style, although often compared to Bill Evans, bore equal shades of Keith Jarrett, especially during his intro to "In Walked Bud." He was countered by powerful drumming as Rainey set himself to pursuing every development in the solos with insatiable melodic taste. In between stood Gress strutting solid lines beneath; following Hersch's every harmonic development, as well as forcing the issue of groove under Rainey, whose dynamic and musicality was often the mark of the trio that spoke the loudest.

Although it wasn't mentioned during the course of the evening, it should be noted that Fred Hersch's extensive career includes "Last Night When We Were Young: The Ballad Album," a project he produced and played on with Gary Burton, Toots Thielemans and George Shearing. Its revenue supports Classical Action, a group of Performing Artists Against AIDS. The album and more information can be obtained by calling 1-800-321-AIDS. As with his music, Hersch takes the effort personally and seriously. The 39-year-old is HIV-positive.

The Louisville Jazz Society (and Dick Sisto, specifically) did the public right, bringing in one of the freshest groups to play Louisville in a long time (not to mention making it tolerable that Bobby Shew, great as he is, is booked again next year). The Silo Brew Pub strengthened the deal with the intimacy of their Hops Room and a full menu served during the show. The Jazz Society will follow closely on the heels of the night's success with a concert on Monday, November 7, by saxophonist Greg Abate with the Phil DeGregg Trio, boasting a repertoire of bop, Brazilian and mainstream (7:30 at the Silo; tickets $6 members, $8 non-members).