John Hollenbeck Reviews:
NEW REPUBLIC, July 4, 2013
by David Hajdu
Retro-Soul and Jazz, Fine, but Krautrock, Anyone?
By NATE CHINEN, NY Times
John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble
The drummer and composer John Hollenbeck inhabits a world
of gleaming modernity, and “Eternal Interlude” (Sunnyside), the second album featuring his Large Ensemble, reflects
both the clarity and brightness of his vision. Timbre is his forte as much as rhythm: his strategies for the band often involve
an autumnal rustle of woodwinds and a billowing swirl of brass. On the superb 19-minute title track he creates a gossamer
shimmer of flutes, clarinets, piano and marimba; on “The Cloud” he finds use for a chorus of whistlers. There’s
room for robust improvising in his music — the tenor saxophonists Tony Malaby and Ellery Eskelin both make hay on “Perseverance”
— but it always feels transitional, like a means to an end. So too does Mr. Hollenbeck’s interaction with the
jazz canon here, as when he beams Thelonious Monk’s “Four in One” through a complex prism, yielding something
meaningfully titled “Foreign One.”
"John is one of the most brilliant musicians I've had the privilege of working with."
"John is taking drumming to a new place-[he] is moving right along and carving
his own niche."
"John Hollenbeck is one of the most efficient,
well-rounded percussionists to come along in recent years." Dave Liebman
John Hollenbeck is among the new skinsmen with enough raw skill to make his estimable melodic gifts serve his impeccable timing."
K. Leander Williams - Time Out/NY
"Versatile, articulate, and focused, they've got a book
that keeps getting stronger, and a seriousness of purpose that goes well with their groove sense and arsenal of toys. Hollenbeck's
writing draws on modern chamber music and ethnic field recordings, and the band improvises around it fluidly."
Douglas Wolk - Village Voice
"...superb, technically ingenious...,passionate and serious,
but also playful and funny..." Douglas Wolk - Village Voice
thinking music, continually changing shape and texture; Mr. Hollenbeck is an estimable jazz drummer whose goals clearly lie
beyond jazz." Ben Ratliff - New York Times
John Hollenbeck is fast becoming the downtown bandleader to watch. His compositions flow sinuously from one avant-sound
world to another, and he has great taste in sidemen, too."
K. Leander Williams - TimeOut/NY
"Percussionist Hollenbeck's pieces employ pulse and its illustrative variants to such a degree that eddies
of sound are often created" Jim Macnie - Village Voice
Christopher Porter - Washington Post
"...I went downstairs to hear the Claudia Quintet.
If the music they played wasn't jazz, it was better than jazz. Drummer John Hollenbeck's compositions were more varied
and imaginative than what was going on upstairs, the mix of composed, improvised, structured and free parts more ambitious..."
Bill Barner - rec.music.bluenote
THE NEW YORK TIMES Ben Ratliff
JOHN HOLLENBECK LARGE ENSEMBLE
Like Mr. Holland, the drummer John Hollenbeck is a rhythm-section player
who leads a quintet and recently grew his music to big-band size. It's pretty clear he's the leader: rhythm provides the guiding
wisdom of each piece. "A Blessing" (Omnitone), the first recording of his Large Ensemble, suggests one logical extension
of Mr. Holland's group, toward multiple personalities. Mr. Hollenbeck is clearly interested in a huge area of contemporary
music, from minimalism to African music to art song to funk to free and straight-ahead jazz. (He never sounds like he's mocking
any one style, or overreaching: he figures out a way to make everything his own.) It's a real ensemble record, without many
solos in the traditional jazz sense; the musicians play in tight, arranged sections, but also go to the other extreme, teasing
out weird timbres and textures. Some tracks are dead serious, like "The Music of Life," with a Sufi-philosophy text
sung by Theo Bleckmann over clouds of slowly changing chords. Others have a dry and brainy sense of humor, and try ideas that
might look dreadful on paper, like putting a shard of "April in Paris's" melody over a reggae rhythm and ambient
horn arrangements. In some wily way, it turns out not to be dreadful at all.
THE IRISH TIMES
MONDAY JUNE 27, 2005
JOHN HOLLENBECK LARGE ENSEMBLE A Blessing Omnitone
Drummer and composer Hollenbeck, who counts Brookmeyer, Schneider, McNeely, Ligeti,
Gil Evans and Brian Eno as influences, uses the conventional big band basics, plus the voice of Theo Bleckmann, in decidedly
unconventional ways. Relatively straight-ahead funk, reggae, free improv and classical elements are blended in what is, notwithstanding
some soloists, essentially a composer's work throughout. They yield beauties in the 16-minute Irish Blessing, the chant-like
The Music of Life, Folkmoot and the quirky April in Reggae, with its adeptly kaleidoscopic mix of ensemble and brief solos.
Equally impressive, but vastly different are Weiji, Abstinence and RAM, each a rigorously controlled combination of the free
and the formal. And it's all done with striking clarity, authority and originality. www.omnitone.com
ALL MUSIC GUIDE by Dave Lynch
composer, and bandleader John Hollenbeck reveals the wide and deep range of his talents on the first album by his Large Ensemble,
an 18-piece aggregation of some of the most skilled musicians on the New York City creative music scene, including Hollenbeck's
frequent partner in musical exploration, vocalist Theo Bleckmann, and two members of the Claudia Quintet. Hollenbeck succeeds
brilliantly in keeping the listener off balance, revealing new facets of his artistic vision and the capabilities of his players
as the album progresses, yet never losing sight of A Blessing's overarching conceptual form.
The CD begins with
a blessing and ends with a prayer, deeply humanistic and touchingly hopeful messages bracketing the far-reaching journey at
the album's heart. That trip starts at the title track, as the moody, subtle atmospherics of piano, bowed vibes, and bass
beneath Bleckmann's vocal build through an expressive soprano saxophone interlude into thoroughly scored full-ensemble territory
that fully reflects Hollenbeck's compositional acumen. Front-line instruments including woodwinds, mallets, and voice unwind
chant-like melodic lines over a harmonic backdrop that shifts as the rhythm tightens and the melodies knot up in counterpoint,
finally ascending to a plateau of shimmering, Steve Reich-ian minimalism beneath Bleckmann's final heartfelt wish -- a traditional
Irish blessing that everyone has heard but has never been offered more poignantly -- that life offer up its best for its travelers.
Later, a jazz sensibility takes over in "RAM," with its brassy punctuations and swing, while masses of caterwauling
horns let loose over a mechanistically pounding, skewed rhythm in "Weiji" and the thus-far definitive version of
Hollenbeck's opus "a-b-s-t-i-n-e-n-c-e" builds to climax suggesting quite the opposite of the title itself. The
catharsis is invigorating and fully realized as the album winds its way through myriad episodes of contrasting moods, even
as solo instrumental spotlights for trombone, piano, and saxophone battle with complex underlying arrangements for the listeners'
attention. There's so much to hear that multiple spins are absolutely mandatory.
In the liners, Hollenbeck is quoted
describing Bleckmann as the band's "secret weapon," and that pretty much nails it. Bleckmann is a beautifully evocative
singer in a "conventional" song, but his wordless voice is also a stunning instrument, somehow both warm and otherworldly.
He's in the mix here and there throughout, taking on the role that, for example, a theremin, shakuhachi, or didgeridoo might
fulfill in your not-so-typical big-band arrangement. Ultimately, A Blessing is like any of John Hollenbeck's other, smaller-group
releases to date -- stylistically unclassifiable while fully engaged in expanding the diverse genres and styles it draws upon.
To use a term that has probably gone out of fashion during times of fragmentation and discord, Hollenbeck's music is "holistic,"
and summed up best in "The Music of Life"'s selfless prayer for healing at this album's conclusion. The world and
all its inhabitants could benefit greatly by taking this type of blessing to heart.
Brainy Drummer John Hollenbeck Breaks the Big Band's Big Habit
John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble's
A Blessing by Francis Davis for The Village Voice July 12th, 2005
to DNA or sheer habit, big bands remained dance bands by implication long after people stopped dancing to them. Although retaining
the classic instrumentation, the John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble (note the billing) is about as far away from Goodman and Basie
as can be. Not that Hollenbeck, who's worked with Meredith Monk as well as Bob Brookmeyer and others in jazz, ignores rhythm
and dynamics—he is a drummer, after all. But A Blessing's rhythms are cyclical and subdivided, its dynamics generally
organized around pitch. The only failures are the first and last tracks, settings for an Irish funeral prayer and a poem by
Hazrat Inayat Khan, both sung by Theo Bleckmann, whose high tenor is more pleasing blending wordlessly with the horns. "Abstinence,"
the most swaggering and exciting of the seven Hollenbeck compositions, isn't going to move any bodies outside of an interpretative
ballet company, but it'll have your pulse racing as it piles theme upon theme into multiple crescendos. As full of small detail
as Hollenbeck's writing for his Claudia Quintet, this is beguiling music for large ensemble. Just don't expect a big band.
By Paul Olson for allaboutjazz.com
Jazz and contemporary
composition, playfulness and prayer, intensity and sweetness: in the musical world of composer/percussionist John Hollenbeck
and on the brand new CD by his Large Ensemble, A Blessing, all these elements mingle. Fans of Hollenbeck’s Claudia Quintet
or any of his other groups (Quartet Lucy, Bleckmann/Hollenbeck Duo) will be prepared for just how well those ingredients mix,
but newcomers to his work may be in for a pleasant surprise. This is ambitious, modern big band music, brilliantly arranged
and deftly performed and recorded.
Many of Hollenbeck’s regular musical collaborators appear on A Blessing—Claudia
Quintet cohorts Chris Speed and Matt Moran, Quartet Lucy saxophonist/English horn player Dan Willis, vocalist Theo Bleckmann—but
the emphasis is the group sound (even Bleckmann’s voice blends into the ensembles like another woodwind). At the same
time, no matter how dense the parts—even in the thick, coalescing, coming-together of the entire ensemble of “RAM”
or the Charles Ives-style xenochrony of “Weiji”—it is possible, even easy, to pinpoint specific players.
Notable, too, are the trademark Hollenbeck complex, shifting rhythms: the steady pulse of “Folkmoot” switches
into a powerful math groove; “April in Reggae” alternates swing time and reggae riddims. Somehow, it all sounds
natural, right; these are not academic exercises. They are songs.
Hollenbeck has created a sonic universe where
a sort of focused spirituality and a deep sense of play are interwoven. The CD is bookended by two pieces (the epic title
track and “The Music of Life”) that contain lyrics sung by Bleckmann. “A Blessing” is the familiar
Irish toast (“May the road rise to meet you…”) and “The Music of Life” is an excerpt from Sufi
master Hazrat Inayat Khan on the beneficial, even essential role of music on our bodies and our spirits. Both songs are stunning—the
swirling, Celtic figures near the end of the sixteen minute-long “A Blessing” seem somehow magical and gravity-defying—but
they also wrap the album in a benign envelope of intelligent, restorative positivity that neither cloys nor condescends. It
couldn't—not when the music combines themes and motifs so playfully.
There are plenty of memorable individual
moments. Bleckmann’s amazing throughout—his voice sounds like a theremin on “Abstinence,”
and its wordless keening on “The Music of Life” defies description. Tom Christensen's soprano solo on
“A Blessing” rises above its surroundings like a kite, and Gary Versace's skittering piano break on “RAM”
is similarly remarkable. Hollenbeck’s crisp, deeply musical drumming is always a great pleasure to hear. The
overall impression, though, is of ensemble playing.
And originality: one may hear a score of musical influences—Gil
Evans, Bob Brookmeyer, even Stan Kenton—but Hollenbeck’s music is his own. His composing and arranging skills
naturally lend themselves to writing for a large ensemble, and the results are an unqualified success. A Blessing is an album
that, I suspect, many of us will be absorbing—and enjoying—for months to come.
By David Adler for allaboutjazz.com
John Hollenbeck has made several small-group
recordings, but a large ensemble suits his advanced compositional voice especially well. With A Blessing, he documents the
inspired large-group work he has showcased live over the last three or so years (most recently at the Jazz Standard CD release
gig on January 25th). The drummer/bandleader’s music is a bit more abstract than that of Maria Schneider and her forebearers
(Brookmeyer, Gil Evans, et al.), but it drinks from nearby streams and it has a personal quality that haunts the imagination
well after the album ends. The opening title track and the closing “The Music of Life” feature vocalist Theo Bleckmann
singing prepared texts — the former a prayer read at the funeral of Hollenbeck’s grandmother, the latter a meditation
on music and spiritual healing from Hazrat Inayat Khan. At 16 minutes, the first piece is a rubato dreamscape that builds
to a soaring tangle of melodies over a challenging harmonic rhythm. The last piece makes use of lyrical drones and monotones,
with dissonant flute and low brass textures and occasional throat-singing from Bleckmann.
commissioned for a 2003 IAJE premiere in Toronto, begins in a bright, driving tempo which later gets underlined by electric
bassist Kermit Driscoll. “Ram,” inspired by Muhal Richard Abrams, finds pianist Gary Versace and vibraphonist
Matt Moran sparring in between gruff announcements from the horns. “Weiji,” with its insistent tom-tom patterns,
hints at Ellington’s Africanist tendencies but winds down with a much lighter, straight-eighth melodic theme. “Abstinence,”
the second-longest piece, has a restrained, rock-like feel and something of a spy movie flavor, with curious electronic elements
at the end. “April In Reggae” (which opened Hollenbeck’s first set at the Jazz Standard) contains a buried
reference to “April In Paris.” Hollenbeck takes a stark six-note theme and elongates it, until it coils around
One complaint: Horn soloists are not identified on the recording. The reeds are Tom Christensen, Ben Kono,
Chris Speed, Dan Willis and Alan Won. The trombonists are Rob Hudson, Kurtis Pivert, Jacob Garchik and Alan Ferber. The trumpeters
are Jon Owens, Tony Kadlek, Dave Ballou and Laurie Frink. Hollenbeck, tied up behind the drum kit, enlists JC Sanford as his
conductor. Many of these players were at the Standard, where Hollenbeck rolled out several new, non-album arrangements, including
a vivid “Four In One” by Thelonious Monk. Even when interpreting canonical jazz, Hollenbeck goes about his art
with startling originality and vision.
John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble
By John Kelman
One clear benefit of the global community we live in, with its inherently broad
reach, is that many artists have developed into stylistic integrators. On a smaller scale, even people who live within the
boundaries of the United States can experience greater artistic diversity than ever before. Only a century ago, people living
in small rural towns would have no way of knowing what kind of music was developing in larger urban centres; now, with the
broad reach of the internet, it’s possible that someone who lives in the most remote town can not only hear what’s
going on outside their relatively small physical universe, they can incorporate the experience into their own musical development.
That’s one of the reasons why the definition of jazz is such a slippery slope. Reductionist thinking aside,
the very assimilation of a multitude of cultural and stylistic concerns is what keeps jazz alive and well, living and breathing
and, most importantly, constantly evolving. Drummer/composer John Hollenbeck has proven over the course of his relatively
short career that it’s possible to blend a multitude of approaches while working within an idiom that's still somehow
indefinably jazz. His latest release, A Blessing, expands on the stylistic melange of his smaller Claudia Quintet with an
eighteen-piece ensemble that offers greater textural possibilities and a grander vision.
The recording explores
the almost unlimited possibilities of one voice, five woodwind players, four trombonists, four trumpets, and a rhythm section
that—in addition to the more traditional piano-bass-drums triumvirate—also includes a variety of mallet instruments.
There’s nothing excessive or bombastic about Hollenbeck’s approach, which isn’t afraid to let smaller subsets
do the talking. Nor is Hollenbeck averse to finding organic ways to emulate ideas that other artists have developed through
looping and other electronic means.
All kinds of trace elements can be found scattered throughout A Blessing. The
sixteen-minute title track unfolds gradually, beginning with Gary Versace’s simple piano arpeggios, Matt Moran’s
bowed vibraphone, and Kermit Driscoll’s bass creating a subtle ambient backdrop of gentle beauty for vocalist Theo Bleckmann’s
crystal pure evocation of “An Irish Blessing.” The piece builds slowly, with Hollenbeck’s drums developing
an ever-strengthening forward motion underneath horn lines that start as long tones, but ultimately evolve into repetitive
patterns that take on a rhythmic life of their own, resolving into a kind of post-minimalist Steve Reich-meets-Maria Schneider
Elsewhere there are elements of primal jungle rhythms (“Weiji”), Brian Eno ambience that builds
into a free cacophony before heading for straightahead swing (“RAM”), and a kind of free jazz reggae
(“April in Reggae”). While it’s difficult to single out any one player, Bleckmann’s voice—while
most often integrated into the overall texture of the ensemble, rather than standing out—ranges from pristine
beauty to percussive panting, and even some miraculous throat singing over the stasis of “The Music of Life.”
Captivating and compelling from a larger narrative perspective, A Blessing is continued evidence of Hollenbeck’s
unfailing instincts and endless imagination. A masterpiece.
I heard the news today oh boy, four thousand holes in the jazz canon. And though the holes
were rather small, they had to count them all. Now they know how many holes it takes to fill the Carnegie Hall.
With apologies to Lennon/McCartney (and the Michael Jackson corporation that owns the music), John Hollenbeck and
his Large Ensemble release a recording of ”what the hell is that” music. The drummer/composer and leader of the
Claudia Quintet and Quartet Lucy assembled this eighteen-piece aggregation to play not big band music, but big music by a
band of small gestures.
The sixteen-minute title track sets the table with vocalist Theo Bleckmann, a
frequent collaborator of Hollenbeck, reciting “An Irish Blessing” over the the very gentle piano of Gary
Versace, bass, and bowed vibraphone. Bleckmann’s extraordinary four-octave voice welcomes you as the other
players step forward and the piece opens up. The music gains momentum, but Bleckmann’s voice always remains
in the mix wordlessly singing the progression.
The Muhal Richard Abrams tribute “RAM” tames a pack
of hungry brass instruments into a swinging affair. Hollenbeck displays a keen sense of arranging a traditional big band here
with an AACM Chicago blue collar feel. He ends the track with a multi-spoken babble of voices just to remind you that you
are in his altered universe.
The Kermit Driscoll electric bass opening of “Abstinence” gives way to
the wordless Bleckmann vocals and some nice (uncredited) trombone work. The lazy track beginnings morph into unstructured
horns and a clever shift into an 1950s big town pulse. Hollenbeck plays with the heavy beat and the power of his eighteen
musicians, flexing muscle and dropping notes onto your chest. By the piece’s end, the wall of sound he conjures is quite
His mix of Jamaica and swing in “April In Reggae” helps to explain Hollenbeck’s musical
motivations. If there are ingredients out there to make a tasty stew, he utilizes them, like Chris Speed’s clarinet
with a dash of raggae pulse. And, of course the wordless vocals of Bleckmann.
Oh boy, I’m glad to count them
John L Walters
Friday July 1, 2005
The sound of A Blessing (Omni Tone, £13.99) by the John Hollenbeck
Large Ensemble is miles away from the shouting, accented brass blasts and dense writing of conventional big band scores. Hollenbeck
leads from the drums with an airy lightness reminiscent of Jack DeJohnette, while his sinuous woodwind lines and low brass
sonorities have the edginess of Jaga Jazzist or Mike Gibbs.
The title track builds to a busy contrapuntal climax,
followed by the "blessing", sung by Theo Bleckmann while the arrangement subsides around him. Folkmoot
is a colourful piece that pays tribute to Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz, while RAM is dedicated to Muhal Richard
Abrams, ranging from free blowing to a swinging, loose-limbed ensemble.
Weiji is structured around a hammering
rhythm, while throaty brass and squalling reeds vie for your attention, and the 12-minute Abstinence has a hypnotic groove
and slow-moving chord sequence for low brass. The middle section shifts into free-form; Hollenbeck's musicians sound less
confident in this context. The Music of Life features Bleckmann's overtone singing, which makes an extraordinary blend with
the sonorities of Hollenbeck's scoring.
What's more, A Blessing has a fine cover design, by the New York graphic
designers Karlssonwilker. Which, come to think of it, was the main reason I noticed it in the first place. Hollenbeck is an
ambitious and thoughtful composer worth checking out.
Large Ensemble - A BLESSING: The word that comes to mind (immediately, on the first 4 bars) is "EPIC".
Not "big band", at least not in the traditional sense... it IS an 18-piece band, & it has some of the elements
of what you might remember as big-band... but John has made this his personal band, & is able to shape it into something
that you've never heard before... what he calls an "ensemble of musicians". That's a very important distinction,
too, because (while I love lots of "big-band" music) there's a tendency, in my head at least, to lump it all together.
Hollenbeck's fantastic drumming "leads" this group in many different directions, without ever stepping into "cliche-land"
muck at all. My particular favorite on this album, from the perspectives of "non-cliche", as well as emphasis on
the rhythms of life, is cut 4, "Weiji".... it is truly a masterpiece, for the jazz listener as well as those who
are "bent" a bit more (like Zappa fans, in Frank's own large ensemble era). This is an album to GET & to TREASURE...
I give it my MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED rating, to be sure! Rotcod Zzaj http://home.comcast.net/~rotcod1/Z73Reviews.htm
from all about jazz.com I, Claudia
Claudia Quintet | Cuneiform
~ Mark Corroto
Composer John Hollenbeck is also a drummer.
So you expect propulsion, and on his latest Claudia Quintet release you get plenty of drive and rush. But his force is mostly
about vibe and the simpatico relationship between the odd instrumentation assembled for the date.
has worked with the likes of Cuong Vu, David Krakauer, Pablo Ziegler, and the Village Vanguard Orchestra. His signature music
has been crafted in collaborations with Theo Bleckmann, Meredith Monk, and Bob Brookmeyer. He is a drummer who considers himself
to be a lyrical player. In fact he ”plays” toys, tins and tubes—besides his drum kit.
Claudia follows up the Claudia Quintet's self-titled debut release and repeats the magic of that 2001 session. This unique
band includes accordion (Ted Reichman), vibraphone (Matt Moran), clarinet/saxophone (Chris Speed), and bass (Drew Gress).
Hollenbeck’s compositions are beyond jazz, inching up on chamber music but informed by ethnic, rock, and
modern composition as well. “Opening,” with Gress tapping his bow on his strings, could easily have been a power
piece by Radiohead. That is until Hollenbeck pauses and begins blowing into a tube. The propulsion is re-ignited with Chris
Speed’s simple clarinet line. “Arabic” opens like a Steve Reich repetition piece, vibes and percussion looping
steps under Speed’s clarinet figure. It evolves (or devolves) into a wild ride of improvisation and eventual reflection
of simple accordion, vibe, triangle, and bass.
Hollenbeck’s music is all about reflection: the simple
note, breath and gesture. Both “The Cloud Of Unknowing” and “Couch” show how simple separation of
notes and musicians speak louder than the volume of combined playing. Hollenbeck lays such a casual groove he lets your mind
fill the gaps with imagination. In fact, the toy static raised on “...Can You Get Through This Life With A Good Heart?”
leaves you adrift in thought before the band brings you home in a funky rhythm.
As John Cleese would say
during Monty Python’s Flying Circus, “...and now for something completely different!” ...a band
with the hippest groove in music today.
from the Phoenix:
Claudia Quintet I, Claudia (Cuneiform)
BY JON GARELICK
The appeal of the Claudia Quintet’s
second CD comes in the sonorities conjured by drummer/composer John Hollenbeck: the deep woody tones of Chris Speed’s
clarinet against the wheezing delicacy of Ted Reichman’s accordion and Matt Moran’s vibes. The opening "Just
Like Him" sets up the template: Hollenbeck’s motoric drum ’n’ bass patter of snare, kick, and hi-hat,
then Speed’s slow-moving, long-toned line, then a spare vibes line set against the clarinet, then yet another line,
like spaced channel markers — big black things — in the transparent current, from bassist Drew Gress. It isn’t
until a full minute into the six-and-a-half minute piece that Reichman offers that first aromatic wheez of harmony. It goes
along like that, melodic counterlines weaving around each other in a kind of contrary motion. Then there’s a pause at
the four-minute mark that leaves clarinet and accordion see-sawing on a dissonant interval before the whole thing starts up
again, this time with Gress the first to leap in after Hollenbeck’s drums.
Those cyclical rhythms contribute
to the music’s seductiveness, as they do in minimalists like Glass and Reich. (The stuttering out-of-sync rhythmic-melodic
figure of "Opening" even suggests the Cure’s "Close to You.") But, again like Glass and Reich, those
"process" rhythms can drive you nuts. There is some relief in some beautiful out-of-tempo passages, but every once
in a while you might wish the band would just give in to their jazz side, play a straight walking four, and blow. And on "Misty
Hymen," the most frantic, out-there, and jazzlike of the pieces, Speed does get off a ripping tenor solo.
"Too cool for words" January 29, 2004
Reviewer: Jan P. Dennis
Monument, CO USA
What I love most about this disc is the crazy way the musicians have conceptualized
No instrument sounds normal.
Yet all sound glorious.
techniques. Freaky repetitive figures. Weirdly natural vibes. Moans. Groans. And simply spectacular group improv, interaction,
Speaking of vibes, Matt Moran on this awkward instrument has a concept and execution I've never
heard before. Very what I call declamatory, heartfelt yet mysterious, he often sets the table for the amazing sonorities that
regularly grace the proceedings.
Ted Reichman on accordian also has a unique concept: anti-virtuoso, integrated,
Drew Gress on bass has practically reconfigured his playing concept, making his
instrument dance, plod, sing, and declare as appropriate.
Chris Speed, who's honed his chops in a variety
of ethnic Mediterrean/jazz settings, most notable Pachora, here abundantly reaps the huge benefits of thoroughly absorbing
an authenic ethnic music and then magically mapping it onto jazz. I'm particularly taken by his tenor sax playing, unlike
anything in the history of jazz, yet weirdly inevitable in this adventurous setting.
But it's the leader on drums
who's primarily responsible for this ravishing sonic brilliance. All compositions are his; thus he's the mastermind behind
this astounding sonic palette, most gloriously revelated in ". . . can you get through this life with a good heart?"--one
of the most original and mesmeriznig soundsacpes in the history of recorded music. His free-static drumming here alone is
worth the price of admission.
This is the hottest band around, freely morphing between world- jazz, free-bop,
a-referential percussive weirdness, and just plain out weirdness although thoroughly accessible.
this is it. These boys have created the first jazz masterpiece of the 21st century. DO NOT MISS IT.
I, Claudia - The Claudia Quintet
Cuneiform Records 187
The Claudia Quintet's I, Claudia is one of the best of the albums of the slowly
blossoming New Year. Post-rock is sort of a silly term (it thrice froze up the ordinarily very helpful All Music Guide when
I tried to search for it), but we're kind of stuck with it to describe the neatly mechanical minimalism-informed instrumental
jazz-rock (or is it the instrumental jazz-informed rock minimalism?) of bands like Tortoise and TransAm, whose musicians grind
with perfectly repeated precision. The Claudia Quintet, led by percussionist John Hollenbeck, fall into that category, too.
Everything about their presentation is crisply ordered. There is virtually no reverb or distortion on I, Claudia
(and, where there is, it is impeccably subtle). The rhythms behind their songs are imbued with a succinct clarity. There is
no chaos in them, though there is complexity. Hollenbeck is a percussionist, and The Claudia Quintet is driven by the delicate
pairing of his drums and Matt Moran's vibraphone. In combination, the two frequently sound like a spasmodic wind-up toy. Like
Tortoise, the Claudias use the vibraphone to bridge the gap between melody and rhythm. But where Tortoise use melody to accent
strong rhythms, The Claudia Quintet use rhythms to accent churning melodies.
The Claudia Quintet swings, Hollenbeck
leaning into the grooves to give them momentum, and The Claudia Quintet breathes. Literally. It's amazing how much humanity
two air-driven instruments - Chris Speed's clarinet and Ted Reichman's accordion - lend the band. It is this latter quality
that makes The Claudia Quintet special on songs like "Opening" which pulse steadily via Hollenbeck, but inhale and
exhale easily from Speed and Reichman. Many of the tunes - such as the aforementioned "Opening" - alternate between
fast rhythmic excursions and droning minimalism.
"Opening" begins with several prelude-like swells,
which are soon joined by bassist Drew Gress's, then Hollenbeck's, quick 'n' steady tock, which itself resolves into a darting
beat to begin the song proper. Just as quickly, though, the piece breaks back down into blobs of color, Reichman's accordion
rapidly opening and closing its bellows. It is during ambient breakdowns like these - and there is one in nearly every song
- that the instruments are allowed to establish their identities, their characters. Letting loose with long, slow eruptions
on one tone, the ear is allowed - almost unconsciously - to pick up the subtle variations in the instruments' voices. When
they return to dexterous playing, as they inevitably do, they don't sound like machines at all, no matter how fast they go
(and they get pretty fast; check out the dazzling polyrhythms of the Frank Zappa-like "Misty Hymen.") One is capable
of picking out the masterful alterations in tone. What at first seemed virtuosic becomes emotional -- at least somewhat.
I, Claudia is delightfully challenging. It is neither quaint nor cute, but it isn't overbearing either. Likewise,
despite its overt complexities, it is never a difficult listen. Like the gorgeously modernistic green-on-white abstractions
of the liner notes, the music shapes itself on the canvas with an alluring simplicity. It is neither the past, present, nor
future of anything. It is a statement that exists boldly for itself - hey, its confidence is there in its own name, I, Claudia
- and stands proud.
The New York Times
Published: March 22, 2004
By BEN RATLIFF
Claudia Quintet gives off a slinkier, mistier feeling than Mr. Charlap's trio. That's mostly a function of instrumentation,
which tends here toward the mellower end of the spectrum. Vibraphone and xylophone (Matt Moran), accordion (Ted Reichman)
and clarinet (Chris Speed) play principal roles, and the parts of the band shift around like tectonic plates. In a typical
chunk of the group's new album, "I, Claudia" (Cunieform), an ostinato figure on the vibraphone gradually gives
way to clarinet and accordion; there's a sliding-off into kind of sound-soup, and then a redeveloped version of the vamp
Nobody promised you this would be jazz; it just happens that most of the musicians in the band have
their training in that area, so you get the vestigial feeling of jazz from the tone of Drew Gress's acoustic bass, Mr.
Moran's occasional harmonic improvisations in a given rhythm and Mr. Hollenbeck's use of brushes.
of swing, the pulse tends toward the even, hammering one of baroque, Eastern European folk dance, Philip Glass and drum-and-bass.
But sometimes it's slow funk. And sometimes there's no pulse at all. A track called "Can You Get Through This
Life With a Good Heart?" begins with discrete chord clouds, a little bit after the style of Morton Feldman, joined together
by some sort of buttery radio-transmitter static.
Whatever it is, Mr. Hollenbeck has gotten at a special
group sound, and he's such a sensitive, technically deft drummer — you notice the steadiness of
his timekeeping right away — that his music can just be what he wants it to be; it's curious,
and sometimes lightly funny without sour, satiric edges. It doesn't need alignments with jazz or rock or anything
else to vindicate itself.
Reviewed by: Glenn Astarita for jazzreview.com
Musicians: John Hollenbeck (drums, composition), Drew Gress (acoustic bass), Matt Moran (vibraphone, percussion),
Chris Speed (clarinet, tenor sax), Ted Reichman (accordion)
Review: Whether in a supporting role or as a leader,
John Hollenbeck’s method of jazz drumming is unequal parts exactitude, and wit, enhanced by a polyrhythmic composure.
However, he supplants these attributes with a spunky and rather spirited compositionally minded disposition. On this truly
wonderful outing, the drummer’s cleverly performed grooves provide a clearly definable spark for the soloists’
various maneuvers. On the opener “Just Like Him,” Hollenbeck and bassist Drew Grass lay down a perky ostinato
motif. Here, Chris Speed’s lilting clarinet lines and Matt Moran’s soft vibes offer flotation-like qualities as
the band subtly shifts the pulse amid airy dreamscapes.
Ted Reichman’s oscillating accordion work on the piece
titled “Opening,” tenders a semblance of an electronic element, whereas the band often conjures up an aura, befitting
children at play. The musicians’ inject charm and wit into these cyclically generated works. It’s like clockwork!
As a portion of these semi-structured themes ring up notions of ethereal vistas and cautiously enacted sojourns. Ultimately,
Hollenbeck’s lighthearted compositional style suggests a trance-like state that moves through an aggregation of linearly
devised ebbs and flows. However, the one constant during this production is how the music proceeds in such a delicate, and
largely inauspicious manner. One of the year’s very best! (Feverishly recommended…)
Artist: The Claudia Quintet
Album: I, Claudia
Bivins for dusted magazine
A few years ago percussionist/composer John Hollenbeck seemed to spring
from nowhere to release a spate of discs for CRI: No Images, Quartet Lucy and The Claudia Quintet, after which his working
band is now named. This sophomore release builds on the strengths of its predecessor with the same richly varied instrumental
lineup – vibraphonist Matt Moran, accordionist Ted Reichman, tenor/clarinet player Chris Speed, and bassist Drew Gress,
in addition to the leader. The music itself still works the furrow between “downtown” improvising, post-rock propulsion,
and New Music minimalism (in the Glass/Reich sense). The minimalist influence is no joke, and Hollenbeck has even performed
with Meredith Monk. But it certainly doesn’t constrain the relaxed enthusiasm of these intricately woven pieces, in
which Hollenbeck is as likely to join the vibraphone on his marimba as he is to kick out the jams.
polymeters and syncopations abound, and though Hollenbeck likes to bring the funk, there’s plenty to stimulate the ol’
noggin here as well. His composer’s knack for structure generally leads him to set up ear-catching ideas – “accessible,”
in other words – but which reveal considerable nuance during performance. Hollenbeck and Gress create an ever-changing
rhythmic polymorphousness, shifting accents, playing with phrasing, and gleefully reshaping the general bounce. Speed, Moran,
and/or Reichman perform dense counterlines amid a forest of textural and atmospheric effects.
epitomizes Hollenbeck’s accessible abnormalities. The album’s second song has a kind of clipped, almost digital
effect that recalls electronica (specifically Fennesz during its washed out ambient passages). Sure, solos happen (and I happen
to like Chris Speed’s playing here more than on anything else I’ve heard from him; his clarinet work is excellent),
but they’re so deeply embedded in the fabric of the compositions that you could forgiven for thinking they’re
written out (and hey, Anthony Braxton used to do that).
In general the feel is fairly consonant, although
there are the occasional dark tendrils and jabbing harmonies. Only the glacial, Morton Feldman-like silences of the flatlined
penultimate track “Misty Hymen” prove an exception to the general compositional method. There are all kinds of
details throughout the disc – most generated by the leader, who may blow through a plastic tube or dabble in radio static
– that reveal themselves on repeated listens. Taken as a whole, I, Claudia isn’t one of those rock-your-world
records. But at the same time, it’s rare to find a band that can actually strike a balance between cerebral challenge
and relaxed accessibility.
Jazz Times by Bill Milkowski
On the Claudia
Quintet's 2nd latest, I claudia drummer and bandleader JH incorporates James Brown-influenced "Funky Drummer"
backbeats and invigorating 2nd-line grooves into the fabric of his not-easily-categorizable compositions. Is it ambient? Is
it avant-garde? Is it mimimalist? Is it Downtown? What the hell is it?
Hollenbeck's got such downtown ringers
as bassist DG, CS, TR and MM on board, so it's a safe bet that this provocative material will not have precious value
above 14th Street in NYC-or virtually anywhere else in America, though they'll no doubt eat it up in Europe. Granted,
Hollenbeck is an adventurous new-music composer and conceptualist who follows the courage of his convictions. But jazz fans
anything remotely swinging may want to bypass this heady-post Steve Reich stuff.
by Robert R. Calder
A blurb says this group's inspiration is
"electronica", which at least affords one lead in trying to say what this quintet sounds like: a drummer, a vibist
/ percussionist, a clarinetist / saxophonist, a bassist, and an accordionist. They open with the drummer (John Hollenbeck,
also the composer) sustaining an almost rock-mechanical beat, with which the vibes make free, while the squeezebox is applied
to generate some ethereal sounds. It recurs to these after having its own little time as lead. It's further allowed some
unaccustomed dramatic atmospherics before the vibes enter, with a strong jazzman playing bass. The vibes come near to a jazz
solo before the accordion completes the ensemble and they jam to a close.
"Opening" is the second track
(Duke Ellington had an item called "The Opener" which usually turned up as the final one before the half-time interval).
This thing is a play of textures very much on an electronic or Philip Glass model, and one does get the impression that this
is really a composer's band, like the Michael Nyman Band in England.
My favourite may be "Arabic",
opening with the clarinet, which continues over a sort of Chinese chimes entry. The squeezebox's entry to the accompaniment
is a reminder that the bass has been working away all the time. It's a decent tour-de-force for clarinet, and, after some
wilder vibes playing, the squeezebox synthesizes synthesizer sounds of an engine sort. The clarinet resumes and produces a
"The Cloud of Unknowing" is titled after a very well known German mystical text and
has already appeared and been recorded as a composition commissioned for the Bamberg Symphony Chorus. Bamberg is a modest-sized
German town unique in having been spared wartime bombing, and in having a major Symphony Orchestra disproportionate with the
size of its hometown, to which it was relocated after 1945, having previously been the German orchestra in Prague. This was
a sizeable commission! The composer has also won a jazz award.
Here, the accordion enters in very elderly, thready,
not quavery little old church organ dress, with the piping sound of one old organ sound made by the clarinetist, and the vibes
-- as near as can be managed on vibes -- join in with another ancient organ voices. The bass gets into the act, and there's
a sort of inverted Wurlitzer effect, or rather pre-Wurlitzer, ancient organs having begun to try to emulate little orchestras.
Something dreamy or hypnotic keeps coming to the fore in Claudia Quartet performances. With the establishment of a distinctive
drum rhythm, the vibist moves into something of a jazz solo. The bass is fairly forceful, and presumably these musicians could
do a good job as jazz sidemen. The music isn't, however, jazz, or necessarily all that jazz-influenced or jazz-like. It's
more a case of extremely well developed jazz techniques being turned to ends of contemporary modern classical music. Perhaps
Claudia is really a composer's instrument, an odd ad hoc sort of assembly, who might be previewing music that will subsequently
have a different, more conventional orchestration. Regardless, it is a group of players each very much concerned with the
expressive and tonal capacities of his specific instrument.
by Jay Collins
28 May 2004
Drummer/percussionist John Hollenbeck is an ambitious person.
Not only does he play with a host of others like the Vanguard Orchestra (Thad Jones & Mel Lewis' band), Meredith Monk,
Bob Brookmeyer, Cuong Vu and others, he also leads several of his own groups. This wide variety of opportunities affects his
music considerably, making its mark on ensembles like the Claudia Quintet, Quartet Lucy, his duo with vocalist Theo Bleckmann,
and other collectives to which he contributes.
As for the Claudia Quintet specifically, a great deal of time has
been spent by listeners, writers, etc., trying to accurately define The Claudia Quintet. The task is, however, for the most
part, futile. Sure, the group sound and compositions are a unique combination—a dash of jazz, a smidgen of rock, some
improv, a touch of non-western sources, or a little chamber. Ultimately, though, all that matters in the end is that this
combination simply works. For those unaware of its membership, the group consists of Hollenbeck and bassist Drew Gress, vibraphonist
Matt Moran, accordionist Ted Reichman and reedist Chris Speed. The five craftsmen forge a sound that shifts constantly in
an unpredictable fashion, perhaps evoking a groove at one moment, soaring into the heights at another, exploring forlorn introspection
the next or tackling a swirling sound collage of both prickly and boisterous terrains—sometimes using all of these elements
within the context of one composition.
As for their recordings, the group's debut album was a great success
and demonstrated the depth of Hollenbeck's vision for the ensemble. I, Claudia builds on a similar approach, offering
Hollenbeck's unique hypothesis over the course of eight tracks that consider the range of influences noted above.
The program itself begins with "Just Like Him", as Hollenbeck initiates the groove that drives the composition,
a warm venture that features the counterpoint of Speed's mournful clarinet and Reichman's accordion as Gress follows
Hollenbeck's lead. Moran's vibes are the drawing point here, as they glisten by providing waves of sound that underpin
the ensemble's journey. Along similar lines is "Misty Hymen", which demonstrates that Hollenbeck is more than
just a timekeeper, with his impressive drum technique ultimately inspiring Speed's tenor flights and one of Reichman's
more riveting moments.
On a different plane, "Opening" offers detached notions of beauty that alternate
between spacious scrapings and sound washes juxtaposed against a scattered rhythmic spree driven by Reichman and Gress. A
similar detached mood revolves on ". . . can you get through this life with a good heart", with its striking, stark
lines that ultimately heat up in the end thanks to a luscious clarinet/vibes melody.
As for the remainder of the
tracks, Moran's vibes take the rhythmic lead on "Arabic" with Speed's clarinet soaring over an interactive
group improv that cools down at its conclusion. A similar otherworldly feel draws one in on "Adowa (for gra)", with
Speed's tenor setting the vamp for this African-influenced track where Moran's vibes, especially in the latter half,
are glorious. The group parts with a typically bi-polar exploration on "couch". What begins as a heavy, dubbish
vamp drifts into foreboding territory as a vibes/tenor duet signals a drift off into a moody reverie.
has repeated the success of the Quintet's debut with I, Claudia. Hopefully, this band will continue to work together as
an outlet for Hollenbeck's extremely active and creative mind.
The Claudia Quintet
Media Type: CD
A gifted drummer with a clear style, a
pungent sound, and compositions that draw on influences from funk to the avant-classical of Frank Zappa, on I, Claudia JOHN
HOLLENBECK leads The Claudia Quintet through a surreally charged world. Equally delicate and dynamic, the Quintet spends as
much time fixated on atonal changes as slipping and sliding over Hollenbeck’s elastically sharp grooves. Hollenbeck
is quick-witted throughout, rolling on the unexpected tom or developing a surprise beat that seems equal parts Steve Gadd
and some mad dumbek player. If you can wade through the murky bits, you’ll be rewarded with highly original improv.
John Hollenbeck's Claudia Quintet
On the Boards
October 27, 2003
By Thomas Conrad
Late October into early
November is the high season of Seattle's annual jazz calendar, because that is when the Earshot Jazz Festival happens.
The 2003 version of the festival, the fifteenth, featured more major names than ever before, including Dave Holland and Joshua
Redman and Bill Frisell and Ravi Coltrane and Keith Jarrett's Standards Trio. But one of the brightest, freshest, most
stimulating evenings at this year's event was provided by a little-known ensemble named for a fan who abandoned them.
Drummer/composer/leader-of-record John Hollenbeck told the story of Claudia, attractive and bubbly, who, between sets
at the band's first-ever public appearance, gushed her love for their music, vowed to be there for every remaining night
of the gig and disappeared forever. The fact that this band chose Claudia for its namesake and muse speaks to their droll
postmodern aesthetic—a sensibility revealed in their opening number, "The Arabic Tune."
particular instrumental blend of percussion and string and bellows and wind instruments, the Claudia Quintet sounds like no
other. The participants are Hollenbeck on drums (who writes all the band's material), Matt Moran on vibraphone, Drew Gress
on bass, Ted Reichman on accordion and Chris Speed on clarinet and tenor saxophone. Some of these players are leaders, and
all are strong individual voices. Hence their decision to play team roles demonstrates commitment to this project. The Claudia
Quintet is not about theme-and-solos. Constantly evolving thematic shapes and solos are not separate. "The Arabic Tune"
began as complex yet airy textures. Intricately notated designs created brief moments when single instruments found themselves
alone, but mostly the ensemble rose (to a din) and fell (to the final delicate pointillism) together.
of the evening was established by Hollenbeck's utterly deadpan, slightly twisted song introductions. The second piece,
he explained, was written for a swimmer who won a gold medal in the women's 200-meter butterfly at the 2000 Olympic games.
"Her name...inspired me," Hollenbeck said. "Misty Hyman" was a harder, louder song, like a pumping, splashing
dash to the finish, with Reichman's braying accordion out front. Yet even in this more aggressive tune, the huge swings
in dynamic range meant that the music sometimes got quiet. With this band, the subject is always the ensemble and its collective
gestures. Tight unisons spun loose into free group interplay, then returned to the score, reconfigured.
tune, "Just Like Him," had an opening section that Hollenbeck confessed had been directly stolen from a former girlfriend
who was also a composer. ("The relationship ended badly," he shared.) Melodies accrued and accumulated. The eclecticism
of this band provokes, moment to moment, attempts at classification like "neobaroque" and "chamber jazz"
and "pancultural folk music." But each of these descriptions, once applied, becomes obsolete, because the music
moves on. Hollenbeck is an enormously accomplished and versatile percussionist, yet even when he cuts loose, his patterns
are elegant and musical. For all the unorthodox harmonies and unexpected structures of his compositions, his music is approachable
because of its lyricism and wit. There is lightness, but there is also concentration. In a program of six concise tunes, not
a note felt wasted.
The best piece was the closer, and it was a departure in that its emotional sources were serious.
"Adowa" was written in memory of Hollenbeck's late grandmother and comes from a West African ceremonial funeral
song. Yet even here, the affirmative mood of the concert was sustained, because this motif from Ghana was as celebratory as
a New Orleans funeral march. Hollenbeck unleashed complex, tumbling polyrhythms; Chris Speed on tenor rattled fierce riffs;
Matt Moran's four mallets rang out in the spaces between.
On the Boards, in Seattle's Lower Queen Anne
district, is a right-sized venue for jazz (capacity 550), with superb acoustics. The balanced, clear sound for this concert,
the work of Dan Mortenson, was essential to the experience of music so dependent on detail and nuance.
August 4, 2003 The NY Times
JAZZ REVIEW | JOHN HOLLENBECK
A Joking Drummer Constructs Innovation
By BEN RATLIFF
"I had a girlfriend who was a composer," John Hollenbeck deadpanned to
a small audience at the Jazz Standard on Wednesday, standing in front of his drum kit, which sat at a right angle to the audience.
"While we were going out, she wrote a piece called `Just Like Her.' She was jealous of some chick, or something.
The relationship didn't end well." He paused, and nobody knew where this was going.
he continued, "I stole some pitches from her introduction to that piece. She had some B's, some E flats, some G's.
I stole all of those, And I made them into my own tune called `Just Like Him,' which is better, and bigger."
Mr. Hollenbeck is one of the best comedians I've heard playing contemporary music. He's also a strong, disciplined
drummer with training in jazz and all kinds of nonjazz, modern, folkloric and so forth. (He works both with the Village Vanguard's
Monday-night big band and with Meredith Monk.)
His own steady group, the Claudia Quintet, with which he performed
at the Jazz Standard on Wednesday, looks like your basic post-jazz setup: bass, drums, saxophone, vibraphone, accordion; at
your service for the bridging of swing rhythm, funk, gamelan and West African music. So far so good.
If his music
were a little bit dumber ‹ if it didn't contain so many twitchy, hit-and-run compositional ideas, if it used the
able saxophonist Chris Speed less as a machine for astringent long tones, if part of its charm weren't Mr. Hollenbeck's
heap of little percussion toys, if it let a strong melody have more tyranny over each piece, if it didn't revel so much
in tone clashes ‹ it might be able to speak to the cheap seats and achieve semipopularity. (Actually, if the music
were a little bit dumber, it would resemble the music of the rock band Tortoise. No disrespect to Tortoise.)
it is, this is a small, good thing that a few people have grown to like a great deal. For which Mr. Hollenbeck is principally
Even playing a drum line of his own devising that kept winnowing off and starting up again (unless
I'm mistaken, "Couch" was a tone poem about nodding off on one), he played with force and precision.
In "No D" the band started with a long, through-composed section, with Mr. Hollenbeck and everyone else lining
out the melody. Finally a groove section for bass and drums opened up, and Ted Reichman, the accordionist, played feverishly
around his instrument.
By the end it became a flat-out collective improvising session over a fast groove and stopped
abruptly at its peak. Much new multicultural, multigenre music is content to maintain a blasé pose. This band works
on building up excitement.
The Chicago Tribune April 5, 2002
experiments are easy on the ear
By Howard Reich
Innovative jazz does not have to be harsh,
angry, loud, shrill or grating; it can be delicate, witty, ethereal and radiantly lyric, as the Claudia Quintet pointed out
Wednesday evening in the Chicago Cultural Center.
Led by versatile percussionist John Hollenbeck, the quintet made
its Chicago debut with an original and stylistically wide-ranging repertoire that surely shattered some listeners' assumptions
about the nature of jazz experimentation. The band reveled in unusual harmony, unorthodox instrumentation and unconventional
structure, but the music addressed the ear gently.
There was substance and ingenuity to these scores as well, for
the quintet delved into neo-baroque fugal writing, African and Middle Eastern melody and classical chamber music techniques.
Yet Hollenbeck and friends elegantly merged these, and other, sources of inspiration. From the opening notes of "The
Arabic Tune," it was clear that this band was not going to waste a note. In the gripping introduction to the work, Hollenbeck
and Matt Moran shared a single, telegraphic line on vibes, instantly establishing an air of rhythmic tension and melodic expectation.
If this ostinato recalled the minimalism of Philip Glass, Hollenbeck's music quickly transcended the limitations
of that idiom, for the score soon blossomed, with exquisite blending of tone from Moran's vibes, Chris Speed's clarinet
and Chris Dahlgren's acoustic bass.
The comparatively hard backbeats that Hollenbeck produced on the next work
may have abruptly altered the sound of the ensemble, yet Speed's outrageously bent pitches and charismatic, muscular lines
required no less. With the rest of the quintet firmly supporting the two, the ensemble once again was producing a unanimity
of tone and gesture.
Ultimately, every piece showed a different facet of the group's art. The canonic opening
of a medium-tempo work attested to the skill of Hollenbeck's writing, while the sustained lyricism all the players produced
in the ballad "Love Song for Kate" represented the kind of unabashed melodicism one does not often encounter from
musicians as adventurous as these. And in "Adawa," the band transformed a ceremonial African folkloric tune into
a joyously uptempo ensemble piece, complete with rhapsodic accordion solo from Ted Reichman.
The tour de force
came with "No D," a masterfully constructed composition that opened with a stunning, Gene Krupa-like solo from Hollenbeck.
After this eruption, the rest of the band leaped into the fray, each pursuing a fiercely independent line.
an ensemble this young could pull off such intricately scored writing said a great deal about the players' commitment
to Hollenbeck's ideas. Equally important, the quintet was led by a percussionist who proved as accomplished with a pen
as he is with a pair of sticks. And though Hollenbeck played impeccably well, rarely placing himself at the center of the
action, the band and the tunes always came first.
CODA MAGAZINE-FALL 2002
Composers Recordings CD2002
The Claudia Quintet
Composers Recordings CD2004
John Hollenbeck has a widely varied musical background, and his first three recordings as a leader capture a large part of
it, while maintaining some stylistic threads that reassure that he’s more than a musical magpie. Hollenbeck’s
credentials include stints with fellow Eastman School of Music grad Maria Schneider’s orchestra, Klezmer Madness, Brazilian
pianist Pablo Ziegler and Bob Brookmeyer’s New Art Orchestra. Brookmeyer is a major compositional influence, and Hollenbeck
has won both commissions and awards, including the prestigious Gil Evans Fellowship from the International Association of
Jazz Educators. Balancing that academic cred is the fact that he’s also participated in a number of small groups that
dominate the hardscrabble scene in New York’s East Village. Is it any wonder that these three projects cover such a
broad spectrum of contemporary sound?
No Images is something of a valedictory statement, recorded primarily in
1995, and partially conceived while Hollenbeck was finishing his degree at Eastman. As the title suggests, the recording deals
with themes of sight and perception. The title piece, the sole performance from 2001, is based on a stark poem by Waring Cuney
about the death of dreams and played by directing a small electric fan at an old autoharp. The sound shimmers and shifts like
metallic guitar feedback, with the occasional plucked string breaking the sonic haze like notes on a hammered dulcimer.
The centerpiece of No Images is a 25-minute tour de force built around a sermon by Martin Luther King about the perils
of what he terms “The Drum Major Instinct”. The trombone trio of Ray Anderson, David Taylor and Tim Sessions acts
as both a chorus, echoing and emphasizing King’s distinctive speech patterns, and as vocal parishioners shouting encouragement
and agreement to the preacher. Remarkably, Hollenbeck claims that he was unfamiliar with Max Roach’s Chattahoochie Red,
which makes similar use of King’s “I Have A Dream” speech. As if the challenge of improvising around King’s
mesmerizing cadences wasn’t enough, Hollenbeck ups the ante by making the musicians work in the dark, so King’s
voice becomes the sole focus of their attention. It’s a stirring performance that actually manages to surpass Roach’s
for drama and passion.
The three-part chorus is also the basis for the opening “Bluegreenyellow”, which
assigns colours to the tenor saxophones of Dave Liebman, Ellery Eskelin and Rick Dimuzio. It marks Liebman’s return
to tenor after years of concentration on soprano, and he sounds like he never put the horn down.
Liebman and Eskelin
return to duet with Hollenbeck on two rousing sets of six improvisations each, while the remaining piece marks the initial
meeting of the formidable trio of Hollenbeck, guitarist Ben Monder and the remarkable vocalist Theo Bleckmann.
Images is an exceptional debut recording — one that might have been a hard act to follow had Hollenbeck released it
six years ago. Followed by the first recordings by his two current working bands — Quartet Lucy, with Bleckmann, saxophonist
Dan Willis and bassist Skuli Sverrison, and The Claudia Quintet, with reed player Chris Speed, accordionist Ted Reichman,
vibist Matt Moran and bassist Drew Gress — No Images sounds like a promise fulfilled.
The Quartet Lucy recording
is as filled with the ethereal voice of Bleckmann almost as much as the singer’s two recordings as leader, with added
textures like Willis’ English horn, berimbau and cello. Hollenbeck’s Brazilian influences are much in evidence,
and he frequently eschews a drum kit for hand percussion.
The music of Old And New Dreams and Codona are two other
touchstones, particularly on “Foreva” with its taut bassline, textured sax and wordless, percussive vocals. Like
Don Cherry, Hollenbeck seems drawn to exotic rhythms and singsong phrases, and he weaves it all into a form that defies characterization
as jazz, new music or anything else. As on his own recordings, Bleckmann is a fearless singer, willing to stitch together
improbable techniques, like the combination of Gregorian chant and throat singing that is the backbone of the closing “The
Meaning Of Life”.
Meditative and moving, Quartet Lucy is on the short side at a shade under 50 minutes, but
there is much to savour here.
The Claudia Quintet is the most unified sounding of Hollenbeck’s three recordings,
filled with music of long tones and small gestures that rewards close listening. Speed, Moran and Reichman are all capable
of drawing a variety of sounds from their instruments, and compositions like “Thursday 11:14 p.m. (grey)” find
them in deep conversation with hushed tones and muted expression. Gress is the centre of much of the music, often providing
the sole melodic element while the other instruments create texture.
As a percussionist-composer, Hollenbeck is
relatively unique. With the exception of some of the raucous pieces on No Images, his music glistens more than anything else.
Rhythm is frequently subordinate to colour — from the manipulated autoharp on “No Images” to the combined
accordion and vibes in Claudia.
Seldom has a young musician given listeners so much to chew on at one time. These
three recordings represent an impressive introduction for anyone who hasn’t already encountered Hollenbeck.
Downbeat Magazine October 2002
The Claudia Quintet
Drummer John Hollenbeck has traveled among jazz, contemporary
classical and pan-ethnic folk music with the agility of a seasoned commuter on the New York City subway. Recently, he's
worked in composer Meredith Monk's ensemble, clarinetist David Krakauer's klezmer bands, and the Village Vanguard
Orchestra. Hollenbecks own discs throughout the past few years show how much he's gained from these multifaceted associations.
The Claudia Quintet is the most remarkable of these recordings because it features a spirited working band that becomes an
ideal instrument for his compositions.
The other musicians in the quintet reflect Hollenbeck's own versatile
journeys. Accordionist Ted Reichman, reedist Chris Speed and vibraphonist Matt Moran also work together in the Balkan-meets-swing
Slavic Soul Party. Speed and bassist Drew Gress have also collaborated with such resourceful global jazz explorers as Dave
Douglas. While the group undoubtedly draws from these diverse experiences, no influence becomes too obvious. For instance,
without playing a generic tango beat, Reichman channels the melodic gravity that the Argentinean idiom has lent his instrument.
Some of Hollenbeck's songs initially echo modern chamber music-"'a-b-s-t-i-n-e-n-c-e" and "Love
Song For Kate"-before constantly surprising shifts turn everything around. An extended musical conversation between Speed
and Reichman on "Thursday 7:30pm" is redirected through Hollenbeck and Gress' interjections. At other times,
the drummer would appear to play a contrasting rhythm from the rest of the group, but its really the ostensible digression
that ties them all together. Frequently, the bandleader just makes his presence heard with a few succinct cymbal runs.
Hollenbeck's unassuming leadership offers his band members several ideal opportunities to present their own ideas.
Speed goes from the long serene clarinet lines on "Love Song For
Kate" to a honking and squawking tenor on
"Burt And Ken." Moran must have also had fun
playing with the vibraphone's pitches on "Thursday 11:14am."
At one point, he just lets
the notes linger up in a range that would make a pet dog go apeshit. -Aaron Cohen