Notes fall softly, plucked or stroked. Violins, cellos, brass instruments softly weezing, single piano keys gently depressed to embroider a minimalist sonic tableau. As much Jackson Pollock as Bill Evans, the hushed pointillism is beyond evocative. Puddles of piano, ribbons of strings all suggesting emotions that defy definition. If not a new kind of classical music, it certainly pushes the realm to places not previously explored.
It makes sense given the composer. Arcade Fire was always smarter and more passionate than most post-rock acts; naturally, multi-instrumentalist Richard Reed Parry’s gaze would extend beyond the limits his band has already pushed without losing their context.
Music for Heart and Breath, a haunting collection of moments with a pair of variations of the title track, captures humanity in ways literal and uncharted. Parry dreams in whole new contexts, his music emerging in an unlikely way.
Placing stethoscopes on the musicians’ hearts or having them set the rhythm to their breathing, this 12-segmented work—featuring a shifting cast of instruments, players and groupings—becomes literally a reflection of the hearts and lungs of the musicians interpreting it. Each performance is subject to change based on the musicians’ emotions and pulses, and what is captured spreads softly like ink on wet, porous paper.
After the 10-sectioned “Interruptions,” with the parenthetical title “(Heart and Breath Nonet)” featuring Bryce and Aaron Dessner on guitar and Parry on double bass, the intimacy is heightened on the final two tracks.
“Duet for Heart and Breath” is merely Parry on piano and Nadia Sirota on viola, a dialogue beyond words, a merging beyond bodies. It is here that interaction is most palpable, the players being drawn together by their own functioning organs—each working from their own rhythms and finding the merge through their instruments.
It’s staggering hearing a heatbeat drive melody. Yet when it falls—slightly off-kilter, but into place—the slight arrhythmia, the push and lag, reflects the body. It brings washes of yearning, pensiveness, even ache, as well as flecks of light.
By the time Kronos Quartet brings lushness to “Quartet for Heart and Breath,” it’s as if the notion has grown flesh and wings. More embodied, its grounding makes our humanity incandescent, then earthy in the lower notes.
Ambitious, Parry conjures rather than creates in concrete. The fierce regimentation gives way to something watery, something that pulls things out of you. For a rainy day, a slow afternoon or any time you want to dissolve, sink into Music for Heart and Breath.