Fred Hersch debuts string quartet on new album Breath by Breath

Fred Hersch’s new album Breath by Breath is the prolific pianist and composer’s first pairing of a jazz rhythm section with a string quartet.

Among the personnel on Breath by Breath, coming in early January, is bassist Drew Gress, a longtime collaborator from the days of Hersch’s first trio. The pair have continued to work with and inspire each other for three decades. Rounding out the rhythm section is Jochen Rueckert, an in-demand session drummer who has worked with other jazz notables such as Pat Metheny, Melissa Aldana and Kurt Rosenwinkel.

Adding to the album’s sound are violinists Joyce Hammann and Laura Seaton, violist Lois Martin, and cellist Jody Redhage Ferber, who make up The Crosby Street String Quartet, named after the New York address of their first rehearsal with Hersch.

“String quartets have been some of my favourite music to listen to my whole life,” Hersch explains 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.”

You can hear the lead single Worldly Winds right now:

The album’s title is a reference to Hersh’s decades-long practice of mindfulness meditation, which he credits with “saving my life” and has been an important part of his adjustment to life during the pandemic.

But while the record does have more contemplative moments, it also finds Hersch pushing his imagination for jazz composition to its limits.

“When I started, I realized that in a way I’ve been meditating my whole life — but on a piano bench,” he says. “I close my eyes when I play and I go into that world. Occasionally I get distracted, but I don’t get wrapped up in it. Instead of my breath being an anchor, the anchor is the sound that I get, the tactile feeling of my fingers on the keys, hearing the space around the music, and leaving that space for other musicians to contribute.”

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Here’s the track listing for Breath by Breath:

  1. Born Again
  2. Awakened Heart
  3. Breath by Breath
  4. Monkey Mind
  5. Rising, Falling
  6. Mara
  7. Know That You Are
  8. Worldly Winds
  9. Pastorale

Breath by Breath arrives Jan. 7 via Palmetto Records.