Like many of the jazz pianists who arrived on the scene in the past few decades, Fred Hersch has clearly been impacted by the late Bill Evans. But for Hersch -- unlike many of his contemporaries -- that influence has served as a creative stimulus rather than a model for emulation.
In his performance at the Jazz Bakery on Wednesday, there were passages in which echoes of the Evans style were present -- the autumnal qualities that occasionally surfaced through harmonic voicings, the flowing interaction with bassist Drew Gress and drummer Nasheet Waits, the sudden breakouts into propulsive swing.
More often, however, Hersch traveled his own path, a poetic musical voyager who took an entranced audience through selections ranging from Thelonious Monk and Ornette Coleman to his own lyrical themes.
After opening with Monk's "Bemsha Swing," and following with Wayne Shorter's "Miyako" and "Black Nile," Hersch opened the emotional floodgates with a lovely rendering of his gorgeous ballad "Endless Stars." Suddenly shifting gears, he romped through Coleman's "Forerunner," leading the way through an improvisation filled with suddenly shifting fragments tossed from one player to another.
Hersch's own "Black Dog Pays a Visit" took a darker turn, succeeded by the brisk, shifting up-tempo rhythms of another original, "Marshall's Plan."
It was, by any estimation, a beautifully conceived program that touched on a wide array of jazz styles while allowing Hersch, Gress and Waits a full range of opportunities to stretch out improvisationally. Hersch has been doing this sort of high-quality work for so long -- more than two decades now -- that it's hard to understand why he hasn't more often been viewed as a major talent in his own right.
Fred Hersch Trio
Where: The Jazz Bakery, 3233 Helms Ave., Culver City
When: Tonight-Sunday, 8 and 9:30 p.m.
Contact: (310) 271-9039