Fred Hersch
"Breath by Breath" at the Village Vanguard

Fred Hersch"Breath by Breath" at the Village Vanguard

Iconic pianist/composer Fred Hersch celebrates his ambitious new recording Breath by Breath in concert Tuesday, January 4–Sunday, January 9 at the Village Vanguard, 178 7th Avenue South, New York City.

Performances at 8 and 10 p.m. Tickets $40. For information call 212-255-4037 or visit https://villagevanguard.com/. For tickets visit https://villagevanguard.squadup.com/.

The following week Hersch’s “Variations on a Folk Song” will receive its world premiere in a performance by pianist Igor Levit on Thursday, January 13 at Carnegie Hall, marking a week in which Hersch’s music will be heard both uptown and downtown, a remarkable feat for a jazz composer.

Hersch was an early adopter of new technologies and new ways forward when the pandemic hit in early 2020. But he’s also been among the most eager to return to live performance and collaboration now that life has begun to resume some semblance of normality. In August he returned to the studio to record one of his most ambitious projects to date: Breath By Breath, his first album ever pairing jazz rhythm section with string quartet.

“I’ve put all my streaming gear away,” declares Hersch, whose lockdown months started off with daily performances on Facebook and culminated in last year’s solo release Live From Home. “It was great while that was what it was, and now I’m in this place where it’s live or nothing.”

Due out January 7, 2022 via Palmetto Records, Breath By Breath draws inspiration from the pianist’s longtime practice of mindfulness meditation, centered on the new eight-movement “Sati Suite.” But while the album is certainly contemplative and lustrous, it’s far from being merely an ambient backdrop for blissful relaxation – the music on Breath By Breath is as fully engaged and emotionally rich as any that Hersch has made over the course of his remarkable career.

In part that’s due to the musicians Hersch has enlisted for the album. Bassist Drew Gress was a member of the pianist’s first trio and has been an inspiring bandstand partner for more than three decades. Jochen Rueckert is one of the most in-demand drummers on the modern scene, having played with such greats as Kurt Rosenwinkel, Mark Turner, Melissa Aldana and Pat Metheny. The Crosby Street String Quartet, named for the NYC address where they first rehearsed with Hersch, combines four of the city’s busiest freelance string players: violinists Joyce Hammann and Laura Seaton, violist Lois Martin, and cellist Jody Redhage Ferber.

“String quartets have been some of my favorite music to listen to my whole life,” Hersch explains. As he writes in the album’s liner notes, “I grew up listening to string quartets as a very young musician in Cincinnati. My piano teacher was the wife of the cellist in the famous LaSalle Quartet. I used to lie on the rug in their living room as an elementary school student while they rehearsed, quietly following along, hearing how the viola part meshed with the first violin, or the second violin and the cello. And ever since I started studying composition at age eight, almost all of my music has always focused on four melodic parts – so string quartets are a natural musical configuration for me.”

The string writing on Breath By Breath spotlights the broad scope of Hersch’s compositional imagination. With each piece the quartet seems to take on a new role in relation to the piano trio: a lush background on one tune, an equal partner in dialogue on the next, an abstract instigator on yet another. “It was important to me that we record live with the strings so I could interact with what they were playing,” Hersch says. “I didn’t want to lay down the music and then have them come in later and overdub. I felt like the fun of the project was to do it live.”