Fred Hersch

Jazz pianist Fred Hersch, joined by bassist John Hébert and drummer Eric McPherson, played at the College of Charleston's TD Arena on Sunday.

“Well, I guess they were right about the weather,” pianist Fred Hersch said, welcoming rain-soaked attendees to TD Arena. Though a stark departure from the majestic Cistern Yard, it made no difference once the music began. A good sound system coupled with veteran musicianship transformed a cavernous gymnasium into an intimate club, reminiscent of a night at the Village Vanguard. It was nothing but net for the Fred Hersch Trio.

The set began with a string of Hersch’s original compositions, opening with a light-footed “Havana” that gave the band room to find its nimble groove. After a few adjustments, a moody “Serpentine” followed, with a unison bass line intro played by Hersch and John Hebert with such expert precision that piano and upright bass were nearly indistinguishable. This technical agility was echoed and enhanced by Eric McPherson's dynamic brush work and intentional, spartan stick work, complementing every beat. This rhythmic foundation was the backbone of their musical conversation throughout their performance.

Hersch’s covert leadership from the piano bench elicited deft responses from his counterparts. This synergy was especially evident in Hersch’s “Skipping,” a bebop melody with a calypso feel, with each player expressing his own nuanced style simultaneously, not once dropping a beat. It takes great discipline to pull that off, and it felt effortless. At 62, Hersch maintains a quiet authority, allowing ample space for the music to speak for itself. No frills or pretension, rather, honesty and deliberation.

The trio subbed originals for a Beatles cover midway through the set, playing a lesser-known “For No One,” as a ballad. Hersch’s solo was sublime, leaving no key untouched. Just when we heard the familiar, he pulled us into another dimension with his fluid movement between tension and release.

A lush performance of Duke Ellington’s ballad “Mood Indigo,” transitioned seamlessly into Thelonious Monk’s “We See,” ending a satisfying performance. The concert was a masterclass in the art of the trio and brilliantly exposed why Fred Hersch is one of the most important players of this generation of jazz.

Reviewer Leah Suarez is a Charleston-based musician.