Fred Hersch, Drew Gress, Paul Motian

Pianist Fred Hersch plays at the Village Vanguard this week, joined by bassist Drew Gress and drummer Paul Motian. I was at last night’s early set, and it was one of the most bracing I’ve seen in a long while.

I’ve dropped my jaw enough times in this space about Motian’s magicianship. Many drummers accent the beat by playing around it, but Motian—who’s nearly 79 and more agile than ever—stretches and squeezes time a half-dozen ways in every 8-bar phrase, always startling but never out of place, like nobody since Tony Williams.

Gress, a regular in Hersch’s early bands who hangs more in avant-garde circles now, hovered close to the songs’ lines, but he flitted from one line to another—melodic, harmonic, or a cruising bass walk—with inventive ease and a nice, fat tone.

But it was Hersch who raised eyebrows and sparked delight, infusing whatever he played—standards, blues, bossas, original compositions, or Monk tunes—with a wizard’s imagination and a lyrical intensity.

The trio plays through Sunday. If you can’t make it, pick up his latest solo CD, Fred Hersch Plays Jobim (on the Sunnyside label), in which he covers the Brazilian classics with dynamic subtlety, great verve, romantic flourish, and not a trace of sentimentalism.

Steve  Mendelsohn's picture

I was at the early set on Saturday and I thought that Motion's playing was obnoxious. I kept punching at his ride cymbal with a flat stick making it very hard to hear what Hersch is doing and I was sitting at the second table behind Hersch. I'm tired of critics talking about how great Motion is. He comps with no regard for the dynamics of the people he's playing with, to say nothing about the audiences ability to hear the other musicians on the stand.

John in d.c.'s picture

If Motian (spell it right, pal) is so "obnoxious" who do so many great musicians want to play with him? Steve, you just don't understand him.