Fred Hersch reminded why he really does belong among the greats

Fred Hersch reminded why he really does belong among the greats

Fred Hersch reminded why he really does belong among the greats with an incredible show at the Guinness Cork Jazz Festival, writes Alan O'Riordan.

Fred Hersch is probably the least-heralded of contemporary greats, but great he truly is, and an extraordinary evening at the Everyman left you in no doubt about that.

Across more than 40 albums, the New York-based piano player has created a body of work that connects with the likes of Thelonius Monk, Bill Evans and Ornette Coleman, but without ever sounding tired or nostalgic.

Fred Hersch
Fred Hersch

Perhaps he’s kept out of the spotlight because of his unfashionably lyrical, even gentle, and always gorgeous, approach to playing. But what matter? He took the Cork audience on a wonderful journey.

We set off via Kenny Wheeler’s Everybody’s Song But My Own. A glorious working of Wayne Shorter’s Black Nile soon follows. Hersch takes a back seat for one of his own compositions, Serpentine, allowing his long-time rhythm section, John Hebert on bass and Eric McPherson on drums, to shine.

Hebert’s deep, dark, warm tone overlaid by McPherson’s skittering brushwork. And on it went, Hersch often opening with lines of astonishing grace, before seeming to turn tunes in on themselves, sending notes tumbling into each other towards a surprising resolution.

Perhaps the most exquisite interlude is a solo version of Russ Freeman’s The Wind. Keith Jarrett is also a fan of this piece, and Hersch is every bit his equal in terms of sensitivity and expressiveness. Hersch likes to finish with a Monk tune, and so he did here. Or tried to.

A standing ovation brought him back out, for an encore of Wichita Lineman. And that still wasn’t enough. A second encore of Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child was almost too poignant to bear: concentrating the ephemeral, ungraspable nature of what we had just witnessed, and, when you considered Hersch’s past serious health problems, of life itself.

Hersch’s trio was part of a double-bill that served up more than three hours of great music. Linley Hamilton’s tight quintet opened, in a fine exhibition of the rude health of Irish jazz.

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