As we’re barreling full-speed into the New Year, I had a thought. If I’m going to include Fred Hersch in my holiday listening choices, I should probably point out that he’s a perfect New Years’ Eve jazz pianist. I’m not talking about Guy Lombardo jazz, but the kind of music that looks forward with hope without wasting too much energy on auld lang syne. On his new album Breath By Breath, Hersch has publicly declared that he’s moving forward from pandemic isolation and is working toward live performance.
That heartfelt goal suggests a shift back and forth between a more hopeful time when that press release was apparently written and now, when we’re back to burrowing in deep for another troubling winter of variants. But the idea behind Breath By Breath is to “put all my streaming gear away,” as Hersch explains, and working with other musicians and, of course, following all CDC guidelines. He’s back in the studio, “where it’s live or nothing.”
Fred Hersch has chosen to perform with his trio–bassist Drew Gress and drummer Jochen Rueckert–which doesn’t seem surprising. The ambitious side of Breath By Breath, however, is the invitation for the Crosby Street String Quartet to join in, and for Hersch to realize his dream of working with such an ensemble. “String quartets have been some of my favorite music to listen to my whole life,” he explains.
The presence of the Crosby Street String Quartet (violinists Joyce Hammonn and Laura Seaton, violist Lois Martin and cellist Jody Redhage Ferber) obviously enhances all that pent-up creativity for Hersch, and Breath By Breath sounds expansive and open and graceful. If Hersch was asked to plunk middle C three times in a row he’d still make it sound like no other pianist in the world, but this is a gift, and explosion of creativity and a spirited run through the landscape that should encourage all the other jazz pianists who need to get out and play.