Fred Hersch was so perfectly in command of everything he played at Kilbourn Hall Tuesday night that you would hardly have noticed anything subversive going on. But toward the end of his set I realized that I knew the ballad he was playing very well, but at that moment I didn't know it at all. The same thing happened with the final song. It was a familiar tune by Thelonious Monk, my favorite jazz composer, but I couldn't place it.
So I asked him about the songs after the concert and it turned out he was up to his old masterful tricks. The ballad was "The Song Is You," but it's usually not a ballad; it's an up-tempo tune. And that faster Monk tune? It was "Let's Cool One," but Monk never played it that fast. Hersch is a great re-inventor of songs.
Earlier in the set he'd paid tribute to Monk in another way, playing "Dream of Monk," his own composition that had such an uncanny resemblance, it could easily pass for a newly discovered Monk tune.
Hersch's trio, with John Hebert on bass and Eric McPherson on drums, was as tight a unit as you'll find anywhere. McPherson was especially subtle on the drums, an important factor when playing Kilbourn Hall.
Hersch will be playing a solo show on Wednesday, June 24, 4 p.m., at the Lyric Theatre, 440 East Avenue.
I headed over to the Lutheran Church where I heard a fine set by Julia Hulsmann and her excellent trio: Marc Muellbauer on double bass and Heinrich Köbberling, drums. Hulsmann is a deliberate pianist who carves out melodies in her solos; no frills for her. She also honored Thelonious Monk with one of her finest tunes of the night, "Who's Next."
She played one song from her latest album exploring the music of Kurt Weill. The older folks in the audience may have remembered "Alabama Song" from the first album by The Doors. Hulsmann's rendition wasn't as raunchy, but it had its own quirks, including a verse played like a music box cranked a little bit too slowly.
But perhaps her most evocative song was one that she explained was inspired by flower-filled roundabouts. As a child, on a vacation trip to France, she said, she found herself fascinated by them. The song's chorus featured a circular theme. Between choruses she would go on melodic excursions but eventually come to another roundabout, another chorus.
Earlier in the evening I caught most of the set by yet another brilliant pianist, George Colligan, at Hatch Hall. Colligan, who studied trumpet at Peabody Conservatory and serves as a drummer on several albums, is now known for his keyboard prowess.
Before the concert he told me the trumpet was just too hard so he switched to piano and is largely self-taught. Let's just say he's quite a teacher. Colligan played a dazzling set consisting of a 15-minute medley of Billy Strayhorn tunes, another 15 minutes of Kenny Wheeler tunes, and then finally some of his own.
Wednesday night, I'm looking forward to catching a great drummer and his group, Antonio Sanchez & Migration, at Kilbourn Hall. Then I'll head over to Hatch Hall to hear Aaron Diehl, the pianist who was so impressive playing with Cecile McLorin Salvant. And I'll also catch the British group, Troyka, at Christ Church.