Fred Hersch TrioWhat: Fred Hersch Trio
Where: Raven Performing Arts Theater, 115 North St.
Time: 7:30 pm | Tickets: $65, $45

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Click to order ticketsWhen Fred Hersch takes the Raven Theater stage with his trio on Friday, June 7, Healdsburg Jazz Festival goers will have already basked in the pianistic brilliance of  Geri Allen, Carla Bley,  Gonzalo Rubalcaba, and Alan Broadbent.  Not a problem. Hersch may be the musician  who best sums up modern jazz piano in the 21st century, and his trio with John Hebert on bass and Eric McPherson on drums is state of the art for that configuration.

Fred HerschHersch is the type of player who can express more in five seconds of note choices than most pianists can summon in an entire concert. And in each of those five seconds you’ll be panting for what’s going to come next. At the keyboard he is like a master jeweler cutting a diamond, each stroke creating a new and dazzling refraction of light and shadow. Not a flamboyant player, he is more pithy than pyrotechnical, more in the mode of  Monk and Strayhorn than Tatum or Tyner. With minimal movement he delivers maximal swing.

The Raven show will be a family affair for Hersch, as it is set to honor his father, Henry, and step-mother, Gloria, who live in Healdsburg and have long supported the festival, with Gloria serving on the board of directors.

The big leagues came quickly to Hersch. He was composing tunes at age 7 and performing on TV at 10. After studying with the great Jaki Byard at the New England Conservatory, he quickly became sought after in New York, getting long-term gigs with Joe Henderson, Stan Getz, Lee Konitz,  Art Farmer and others. He was a member of Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra, too, for a while, in  a version of the band that also included Bill Frisell.  The Ornette Coleman-Charlie Haden system of  playing by ear and heart is very much a part of the tradition Hersch draws from in his group improvising.

With Hebert and McPherson backing him it’s tempting to say  that Hersch has found his Scott LaFaro and Paul Motian – the bassist and drummer that made the Bill Evans Trio arguably  the greatest jazz trio ever. Listen to the Hersch CDs Whirl and Alive at the Vanguard to experience not only a flabbergasting level of telepathic interplay but a chemistry that derives from contrasting approaches. Hebert, schooled in Baton Rouge and New Orleans, has an enormous, elastic sound and is prone to extroversion. McPherson, who spent years in Jackie McLean’s band, constantly challenges Hersch and Hebert with fluctuating tempos and meters. That Hebert and McPherson served as the last rhythm section for the late piano great  Andrew Hill tells you a lot about  what they can accomplish and what Hersch is looking for. Hersch takes the massive energy they put out and focuses it like a laser, creating sheer crystalline beauty at the keys.

That Hersch is with us performing is something of a miracle. He was diagnosed with AIDS in the 1980s, but fought it off until the virus struck at his brain in 2008, putting him in a two-month coma. That’s not the kind of thing people survive, but Hersch did. He rose, not only making a full recovery but taking his piano playing to a new peak.