The crowd to see Fred Hersch last night was decidedly more supper club than I'm used to seeing at Boston jazz events. A nearly full house was full of seersucker jackets, professorial eyeglasses and people swishing and sniffing their wine. And certainly in presentation, Hersch obliged the crowd- he introduced each tune genteely, and put together a program heavy on the standards of Cole Porter, Gershwin and the like that he has covered so beautifully throughout his career- "So in Love", "I Fall in Love too Easily" and the title of his new album, "(You and the) Night and the Music". The standards were delicately rearranged with clever bass and drum hits and little reharmonizations; a bass ostinato punctuated "Change Partners" "I Fall in Love..." was translated into a waltz.
This band, though, is no one's supper club music. Probably the best working piano trio out there is what it is. With Drew Gress, legendary downtown veteran, and Nasheet Waits, the drummer of choice for Ralph Alessi, Jason Moran and the late Andrew Hill, how could it be? From the first note the three took off over, in and around these tunes, never quite leaving the form or the time, but always playing its outer edge. Almost ironically, their one Ornette tune of the evening, "Fort Runner?" seemed most canonical in its presentation- the group played the head, then collectively improvised the rest of the way, almost in the manner of Evans, Lafaro and Motian circa "Portraits in Jazz", puncuated by short drum solos. Fred announced "a Monk tune, I'm not sure which one yet", then dove into a five-minute virtuosic improvisation which kept Monk very much at the forefront, but never bothered to tell you which tune it would be. (Seemingly at the last minute, he settled on "Work")
Nasheet Waits shines mightily in this band. First, he is one of those musicians who seems to hear and respond to everything- the other musicians, the crowd, the glasses clinking, the flies buzzing, EVERYTHING- and transates it on the kit. He and Fred had a constant back and forth interplay throughout the set that was magical, each one egging the other. Nasheet is very busy, but never overpowering- he seems to be able to channel the wild rumble I associate with Elvin Jones into a linear style of playing that fits the somewhat lighter touch and linear sensibility that so many of the musicians he works with need.
The set closed with an encore combining two Wayne Shorter pieces, Miyako and Black Nile. And the supper club crowd liked it all just fine.