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THE CLAUDIA QUINTET
Cuneiform Rune 217
Establishing himself as an in-demand percussionist and band leader, New York-based John Hollenbeck usually has several parallel projects on the go. While being on-call in both his roles for associates as different as Meredith Monk, pianist Fred Hersch, the Bang on a Can All-Stars and even Klezmer Madness proves his adaptability, it sometimes adds unforeseen pressures to his own bands.
Thus while The Claudia Quintet, which has been together since 1997, is a cohesive ensemble, you sometimes get the feeling that a few too many influences are on show. Subsequent tunes ping-pong from New music inflections to Middle Eastern slurs and from contrapuntal jazz time to floating Klangfarbenmelodie that abuts AMM-like minimalist territory.
Additionally, the instrumentation here can sound excessively lightweight. Voicing clarinet, accordion, vibraphone, bass, and percussion, plus keyboards and guitar makes a few pieces appear as if theyve just escaped from a George Shearing or Cal Tjader record; certainly no one seems to be raising a sweat. Additionally, bassist Drew Gress may play with nearly everyone from Tim Berne to Hersch, but overall SEMI-FORMAL lacks low-pitched foundations.
Gresss unexpected lateness is the subject of an unneeded in-joke before the music begins on Drewslate, while Hollenbecks unfortunate tendency towards preciousness portends New Age as much as New music vibrations on several shorter tracks. Furthermore, either he or reedist Chris Speed reverberates soundboard echoes on Kord, one of the so-called bridge pieces. But this alternating of silence and sound resembles nothing s much as the style of AMMs John Tilbury writ small.
Other pieces are more commendable. Speed who has enlivened combo sessions by pianist Myra Melford and Berne among others, contributes harder-edged tenor saxophone lines to They point
, the CDs more-than-9½ minute longest tune. His often-altissimo timbre presages tougher and rougher cross rhythms from the drummer and repeated organ-like keyboard vamps from Ted Reichman, who otherwise sticks to screeching and smearing accordion vibrations. Gress walks his bass and even vibist Matt Moran, whose background includes ethnic bands and minimalism, varies the shimmers and quivers that characterize his work throughout. Eventually the theme is recapped on top of gradually accelerating clarinet and drum timbres and the tune ends with the buzz of the vibraphone motor.
Reichman, whose accordion prowess has perked up sessions lead by avant-Klezmer clarinetist David Krakauer, composer Anthony Braxton and popster Paul Simon pumps resonating tones through tempo changes and acts as focused continuum on other tunes. His soaring meshed tones on Guarana expand the variations driven by Speeds saxophone overblowing to join Morans vibes in suggesting a Milt Jackson small group
if Bags had made common cause with pioneering jazz accordionist Art Van Damme. Bottom tones are still infrequent however, unbalancing the selections.
Even as uncharacteristic a track as Limp Mint whose subdivided 12/8 pulse gives it a Middle Eastern as well as improv base, seems only to be rooted during Gresss bass solo, but the deep groove is sorely tested with contralto clarinet trills, andante vibe runs and sawing and buzzing cymbal work.
Overall, the combination of the drummers signature bounces, gyrating accordion patterns, rattling vibes and Speeds quivering reed command isnt unpleasant. Hollenbeck fans should be pleased. But others may require more focus and for contrast, some lower, darker colors.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. Major Nelson 2. Drewslate 3. Kord 4.They point
5. Bindi binder 6. Susan 7.Two Teachers 8. Growth 9. Limp Mint 10.Guarana 11. Where's my mint? 12. Boy with a bag and his guardian elephant 13. Minor Nelson
Personnel: Chris Speed (clarinet, tenor saxophone, piano and Casio SK1); Ted Reichman (accordion, keyboards and acoustic and electric guitars); Matt Moran (vibraphone, keyboards and baritone horn); Drew Gress (bass, guitar and pedal steel guitar); John Hollenbeck (drums, percussion, piano, keyboards and fan)
February 13, 2006
Giants of Jazz
The Legendary Royal Records RR 90 210
THE CLAUDIA QUINTET
Cuneiform Rune 187
Hand another accolade to 30-something musicians -- theyve finally liberated the accordion.
Once the preserve of polka bands -- or worse -- Lawrence Welks champagne music, the reedy sound of the bellows and keys has made distinct inroads into contemporary improv in the hands of stylists from both Europe and North America. Two of the most accomplished -- Oslos Frode Haltli and New Yorks Ted Reichman -- help shape the sound of these two bands.
Although a further question uniting both these discs is how much of the material is written and how much improvised, I CLAUDIA and GIANTS OF JAZZ, are as different as their formations. On the later, Haltli is part of the five-year-old Poing trio, which play the works of contemporary Norwegian composers with improvised sections. Besides recording with the improv No Spaghetti Edition ensemble in Oslo, the accordionist has performed as a soloist with several orchestras in Europe and Asia. Both bassist Håkon Thelin, who is part of the contemporary music Oslo Sinfonietta, and reedist Rolf-Erik Nystrøm stand more often on the legit side of the fence. Obviously then, the CD title is more tongue in cheek than descriptive.
I CLAUDIA on the other hand is the second CD by the six-year-old Claudia Quintet playing pieces by John Hollenbeck. The percussionist moves in New music, jazz and improv circles and his music and sidefolk reflects those parameters. He has gigged with the Village Vanguard Orchestra, trumpeter Cuong Vu and composer Meredith Monk among many others. Reichman has played with reedists Anthony Braxton and David Krakauer, while bassist Drew Gress has worked with jazzers as mainstream as pianist Fred Hersch and as out as altoist Tim Berne. Vibist Matt Morans collaborators include bassist Mark Dresser and violist Mat Manner, while reedman Chris Speed has worked with Berne and pianist Uri Caine.
All of which means that even if a piece such as Adowa is supposed to be programmatic enough to echo West African funeral sounds, the bouncy drums, bass and vibe rhythms suggest a funkier Modern Jazz Quartet, while Speeds clarinet spits out mid-range growling obbligatos. Meanwhile, the countermelody from the accordion slides from Parisian music hall to Balkan country dances in the space of a couple of minutes.
Similarly, Arabic may offer up a whirling dervish circumnavigation from Morans wooden marimba that moves into gamelan territory and irregularly vibrated clarinet trills. But sounds from the accordion keys and the trap set are strictly straightahead. Propelled on high frequency, growling dynamics from Reichmans bellows the tune moves from adagio to andante with single note contributions from vibe mallets and clarinet reeds.
Most other tunes are based on the shared harmonies available when mouth reeds and manipulated reeds are voiced together, with the end products individually encompassing bleak, reverberating (Morton) Feldmanesque space, organ-like ecclesiastical suggestions that border on plain song and ringing repeated note patterns. Along the way the unique timbres of the squeeze box -- spurred by irregular beats from Hollenbecks snare, toms and bass drum, twist themselves into what could be wind whistling tumbleweed accents, Old Country bouncy czardas or drones that could be produced electro-acoustically.
With the colors bouncing with reed glissandos and fourfold mallet reverberations, even the nine-minute salute to Hollenbecks comfy naptime Couch includes an almost marital drumbeat along with the gliding cushions of clarinet lines and accordion crescendos.
Over in Norway, Poings compositional forays are weakened by being subdivided into too many short sections. Eivind Buenes Seven Types of Ambiguity, for instance, ostensibly unrolls over six tracks, as does Knut Olaf Sundes (<>). [phew!]
The later comes across better, since among the stop-and-start variations, Nystrøm offers a soprano sax solo at the top and a baritone sax line at the end that provides different tonal qualities. Meanwhile, as he moves from key pops and swirling, whistling trills, Haltli introduces whirling and wavering multiphonics. Thelins bass stays pretty much in the background, however. At points, as well, the reedy squeezebox and the literal reed sound so similar that its often impossible to distinguish one from the other. Luckily as the timbres echo back-and-forth the sax slides from penny whistle territory to harsh lower-case lines as the accordion stays mid-range, producing a keyboard related continuum.
Nystrøms alto gets a workout on the former tune, with tongue slaps, irregularly vibrated notes, alp-horn like resonation and whirled split tones that reach falsetto and above. Meanwhile the accordion buffers the reed clicks with systematic, pulsating keyboard pressure.
Elsewhere on the disc, the few times when Thelin promulgates a more powerful bass line the reverberations make Poing resemble another unconventional improv trio -- Australias The Necks -- while the droning pulses of the accordion can sometimes make the ear think its hearing electro-acoustic tones. A bonus video track is alternately bleak and spacey. The dissonant sound is distanced from the visuals which alternate between primitive performance, band standing around shots and updated, pseudo psychedelica that resembles computer screen savers.
Most instructively, the Øyvind Torvund-penned title track is about as far as a recreation of the styles of say, Louis Armstrong or Charlie Parker -- to pick two giants of jazz at random -- as can be imagined.
When Thelins abrasive bowing, encompassing both legato and ponticello techniques, is added to Haltlis bumpy vibrated overtones and Nystrøms braying, back of the throat growls the effect is what could be expected if Pauline Oliveros and Albert Ayler were put in charge of the band at Bedlam. Classic Jazz it aint. But as the unstoppable lumps, thumps and bumps are exposed in an orgy of fleet-fingered high- intensity keyboard smears and squealed sax cadenzas, Poing proves that its Euro creations are unidentifiable enough to bob up with a singular individuality in the sea of modern improv.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: Giants: 1. Essential Extensions 2.-7. Seven Types of Ambiguity 8. Fisk i kjerka 9*. - 14#. (<>) 15. Giants of Jazz
Personnel: Giants: Rolf-Erik Nystrøm (soprano*, alto and baritone# saxophones); Frode Haltli (accordion); Håkon Thelin (bass)
Track Listing: I: 1. just like him 2. Opening 3. arabic 4. The Cloud of Unknowing 5. Adowa (for gra) 6.
can you get through this life with a good heart? 7. Misty Hymen 8. couch
Personnel: I: Chris Speed (tenor saxophone and clarinet); Ted Reichman (accordion); Matt Moran (vibes); Drew Gress (bass); John Hollenbeck (drums)
May 10, 2004
Instants: Live at Teatro Olimpico
Velut Luna CVLD 07600
ZENO DE ROSSIS KRIMINAL MUSEUM
Chocolate Guns 002
Not content to be mere time keepers, some drummers on the Italian scene are part of the international redefinition of the percussionists role and excel in improvising, band leading and composition.
Primo uno example of this is Tiziano Tononi, with his work with both the Italian Instabile Orchestra and Nexus. Yet this two CDs by younger percussionists unquestionably demonstrate that hes not alone in his inventiveness.
Verona-born Zeno de Rossi is one. On PLATEAU PHASE he leads an out-and-out, spur-of-the-moment jam recorded in Manhattan with local players. Someone whose experience encompasses his own CD which deconstructed the music of Charles Mingus and Ornette Coleman among others, plus membership in the Meshuge Klezmer Band and Full Metal Klezmer, it seems he can easily adapt a New York state of mind.
Vincenza-born Roberto Danis INSTANTS on the contrary, is elevated festival fare. Recorded live, as was de Rossis CD, the distinctive piece combines notated and instant compositions, and debuted as part of the New Conversations program at Vincenza Jazz. Dani, whose associations include roles in pianist Giorgio Gaslinis varied ensembles and with saxophonist Alberto Pintons Clear Now quartet, as well as less jazz-centric bands with British vocalist Norma Winston and French tubaist Michel Godard.
INSTANTS synthesizes these jazz and non-jazz influences in four lengthy, inter-related tracks, and Danis accompanists coalesce these influences as well. French clarinetist Louis Sclavis has brought his folk-classical imagination to collaborations with musicians as different as Free Jazz pioneer pianist Cecil Taylor and mainstreamer bop drummer Daniel Humair. French cellist Vincent Courtois has recorded with Sclavis, Godard and the late jazz pianist Michel Petrucianni. American trumpeter Kyle Gregory, who now lives in Verona, works with Dani in Clear Now and in the drummers own bands.
Flirting with the pretensions that sometimes arise in specially created festival fare, Danis CD is still a major accomplishment, saved from academe by the performers inventiveness. Recorded in such a manner that de Rossi is hardly heard, PLATEAU PHASE is more problematic. Low-energy, its almost just a souvenir of the drummer interacting with sympathetic musicians: Sex Mobs saxophonist Briggan Krauss; jazz-New music-Eastern European accordionist Ted Reichman; and analog synthesizer player Jaime Saft, who plays with saxist John Zorn.
Recorded at Vincenzas prestigious Teatro Olimpico, INSTANTSs introductory and longest composition, Last Minute Urgency, appears to begin through composed in the medieval-style voicing of the other instruments that face skittering snare and cymbal crunching. As alto clarinet timbres meld with mellow trumpet and limited rhythm beyond the shaking of Danis bell tree, the fear exists that the composition will dissolve into a quaint motet pastiche. Luckily, Courtois soon sounds out a walking bass part and Gregorys Bubber Miley-like plunger work loosens the near-ecclesiastical setting. The piece is further resuscitated by the drummers flams and tambourine whacks.
Soon the four are outputting a pan-European line that owes as much to local ethnic dances as Duke Ellingtons Jungle band. Sclavis trills grace notes at great speed, while Gregory holds elevated note for many bars. Finally a cymbal crash leads to the clarinetist fashioning variations on the theme in chirping resonation, as Dani appears to be both smacking a cowbell and scraping a guiro. Gregorys triplets advance the initial theme still further as Sclavis moves to his bottom register. A touch of march tempo via the percussionist and speedy slides from the cellist conclude the piece.
Part II, Le Città Invisibli, seems to consist of a notated run-through of the theme, followed by its resetting as an instant composition. Vocalized buzzing bee vibrations at the beginning soon join Courtois sounding all four string simultaneously. Danis nearly weightless paradiddles introduce a solo from Sclavis that seems half-circular breathing and half bouncy Klezmer homage. When his ideas turns overtly Impressionistic though, Gregory acts as if hes sounding the orchestral underscore from one of Rimsky-Korsakovs Euro-Russified works. Again its the drummers rim shots, claves and wood block manipulating that rescue the line from Euro ostentation. Gregorys muted, hunting-horn-like obbligatos and Sclavis slurred reed lines counter this, but the consonant ending, does appear to leave the space for concert hall applause -- which the composition receives.
Screechy overblowing from the clarinet and short tremolo puffs from the trumpet undermine this classicism with dissonance that appears in the second half of the piece. Danis simple beat is bisected first by astringent bowed cello swipes, then plucks, while the clarinetists laughing tones join with Gregorys piccolo trumpet to emulate fire engine sirens. Courtois replicates a rock-playing electric guitar as Sclavis loosens sibilant honks. Once Gregory keeps his Maynard Ferguson-style note spearing in check, the pieces resolution comes in double stopping, double tonguing and double timing.
More than a composition that only lived at its one festival appearance, Dani and company have created fine European improvised music that easily stands up to repeated listening,
It would be commendable if PLATEAU PHASE, recorded in two New York venues, was to live club sessions what INSTANTS is to concert presentations. But for all the assembled talent and good intentions, the CD sounds like just another nights work.
Safts synthesizer wiggle and Reichmans reedy accordion timbres merely seem to slowly unfold around diffuse saxophone lines, especially on the overly long This happened at eight oclock on Wednesday night -- hows that for truth in packaging? Although later on theres an outer-space-like electronic bustle from the synth and some high-pitched calliope tones from the squeezebox, de Rossis own contributions are largely muffled. Krausss subsequent mewling whinny doesnt help the track much either; though he does add some needed excitement later on when he buzzes maximum vibrations from his reed. By the end you can even hear the drummers ruffs in march tempo as well as a Sun Ra-like oscillating squirm from Saft.
Experimental Funeral so resemble a soothing E. Power Briggs organ recital at first that the saxmans metallic slurring and triple tonguing is needed to wake up the purported mortuarys customers. However it turns out to be the liveliest of the four tracks as Krausss spetrofluctuation and split tones coupled with suggestions of a spry Balkan melody from the accordionist and some thunderous chording from Saft raise the excitement level -- if not the dead. But even with de Rossi later thundering out some press rolls and bass drum rumbles, the energy leeches out as the keyboard instruments hold onto notes for longer and longer periods.
The same thing happens with the title tune when a standard jazz beat from the drummer, Middle eastern-style riffs from alto sax and weaving squeeze box tones weave in and out and around one another. Unfortunately the tune then takes on a vaguely sacerdotal air and simply fades away.
Put out in a limited pressing, this session shouldnt be taken as the be-all and end-all of de Rossis work. Coupled with his other CDs though, it shows that hes willing to risk failure when expanding his skills with different types of improvisation and different playing partners. Hopefully next time out, hell score as well as Dani has with his disc.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: Instants: 1. Part I: Last Minute Urgency 2. Part II: Le Città Invisibli 3. Part III 4. Part IV: Cambiamento
Personnel: Instants: Kyle Gregory (trumpet, flugelhorn, piccolo trumpet); Louis Sclavis (clarinets); Vincent Courtois (cello); Roberto Dani (drums)
Track Listing: Plateau: 1. This happened at eight oclock on Wednesday night 2. Experimental Funeral 3. Handsome Sacrifice 4. Plateau Phase
Personnel: Plateau: Briggan Krauss (alto saxophone); Ted Reichman (accordion); Jaime Saft (analog synthesizer); Zeno de Rossi (drums)
September 22, 2003
DE AMSTERDAM KLEZMER BAND
Knitting Factory KFW-300
SLAVIC SOUL PARTY!
Knitting Factory KFW-310
Paradoxically, as the twin vises of globalization and the commercial American entertainment industry tighten their grip on the world, traditional music has never been more popular. But examples of so-called World Music lose their validity if theyre merely held up as examples of what they were (conservative) and what theyre not (American) rather than evolving with time. Evolution doesnt mean adding rock beats and sing-a-long choruses either.
No, evolutionary traditional music is made up of sounds that adapt to and from other idioms the way the wolds most popular -- and sophisticated -- traditional music, jazz, has done so. There are examples of that sort of admixture on these two discs, which also highlight the universality of the sounds they contain. Although musicologists could probably enumerate the many differences between Balkan and Klezmer music, they sound pretty similar here. Not only that, but both bands spotlighted set themselves up as purveyors of goodtime music, characterized by simple bouncy melodies that are heavy on the brass and percussion and both groups feature accordion players. With more members, the De Amsterdam Klezmer Band (DAKB) produces a fuller sound, but the ethnic percussion of Slavic Soul Party (SSP)s leader Matt Moran gives that group more rhythmic heft.
Neither band is ethnically pure either. DAKB, for instance, is made up of seven Dutch musicians, none one of whom seems to have Jewish roots, playing Ashkenazi Eastern European dance music mixed with Gypsy and circus influences for an American record-buying audience. Meanwhile Slavic Soul Party (SSP) is made up of four Americans and one Bulgarian-American musicians, all educated in jazz improvisation, who not only create their own rendering of a Balkan music band, but traveled to Macedonia to play and record there.
While the gesture may seem somewhat analogous to the actions of British rock bands that toured North America in the mid- and late 1960s playing their interpretations of American blues and R&B, SSPs gesture was much more benign. For a start the Balkan state wasnt a source of ready income the way the U.S. turned out to be for British bands. Plus, the members of SSP seemed genuinely interested in taping their music at its source. And they appeared to be welcomed by the traditional musicians they jammed with -- an example of which is on the CD -- and audiences they encountered. Furthermore, while all the other tunes performed were written by a local composer, SSP appends a version of Duke Ellingtons Blue Pepper, which fits hand-in-glove with the Balkan compositions here.
No musical carpetbaggers, all the SSPers had already exhibited their commitment to diverse music. Moran, whose understanding of the local offcentre rhythms is so profound that he can add a South Asian or jazz beat to the proceedings, is active as a performer and teacher on the American folk music scene. He has also worked with American jazz composer/bandleaders like bassist William Parker and pianist George Russell. Fluent in both Gypsy music -- through the band Pachora -- and jazz, clarinetist Chris Speed has also been featured in the bands of altoist Tim Berne and pianist Myra Melford among others. Accordionist Ted Reichman has had a long association with composer Anthony Braxton and recorded with him as well as drummer John Hollenbeck. Fluent in rock as well as jazz, trombonist Curtis Hasselbring is also a Jazz Passenger, while trumpeter Rossen Zahariev has a jazz and classical background and has recorded with drummer Bob Moses.
To extend the music, throughout the disc, the five mix jazz techniques such as call-and-response and quick tempo changes with adaptations like blasting open horn brass work, staccato and smeared reed bites, chromatic keyboard swells and slides plus adapted ethnic percussion. On the last track, Reichman and Moran even trade licks with local clarinetist Irfan Malik. Singing is done by locals.
DAKB is another matter. Together since 1996, and like SSP available for weddings, parties and street festivals, the group is made up of musicians who adapted brass band, pop and Roma influences to Yiddish festive music from Eastern Europe. Playing with much more legitimate technique than Moran and crew, they offer the same sort of jolly recklessness on their tunes. But in the speed of execution and expected instrumental arrangements, with seemingly every cry and slide in place, the band reflects its position, coming to sounds that are separated more than two degrees from their own experience.
With the majority of compositions here originals, each player gets the proper sound dimensions down pat and carefully fits his improvisations within the broader context, with the bass and accordion doing yeoman work carrying the beat in the absence of percussion. Plus the accordionist and the horns shown their versatility in adapting to different contexts.
However, there are times where the vocal renditions, especially in the traditional tunes, bring to mind the efforts of 1960s revival country blues and old-timey music performers. Here are young, 21st century, urban, sophisticated musicians trying to recreate the sounds of primitive, persecuted, mostly rural 19th century songsters. In truth members of DAKB may be too technically aware and too removed from the roots to replicate the pertinent emotions. Authenticity shouldnt be a fetish, and obviously a style of music cant evolve if improvisation isnt allowed, but rote performances are less obvious when words arent involved. Many times, in fact, the vocalists here sound as if theyre primping for a cabaret or music hall performance, rather than expressing the joys or heartbreak of a afflicted people.
Both geographical areas and people celebrated by DAKB and SSP have had their share of strife. So if you accept the exceptional work of the musicians here as non-specific productions and performances youll be well satisfied. Putting aside all agendas both bands have created fine party records -- with SSP having the slight edge -- that with good fun and good musicianship -- are sure to enliven any non-mainstream fete.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: Slavic: 1. Is this your first time in Makedonija? 2. eva 3. Dafino Vino 4. Dance the Dust Up 5. Derive Ro 6. Leventikos 7. Zajde zajde* 8. Koutsos 9. All Up and Down 10. Romanian Holiday 11. Trite Puti 12. (Lets just call him) Pavlos 13. Blue Pepper 14. The wedding next door/Paidushko+
Personnel: Slavic: Rossen Zahariev (trumpet); Curtis Hasselbring (trombone); Chris Speed (clarinet); Ted Reichman (accordion); Matt Moran (drums, tapan, darabouka, snare, riq); except:* Angele Dimovski (kaval); Jovanche Dimovski (voice); Biljana Dimovski (accordion); + Irfan Malik (clarinet); Reichman ; Moran
Track Listing: Limonchiki: 1. Di Naie Chuppe 2. Nadja 3. Der Terkishe Yale We Yove Valenstein Nigun# 4. Matrosi^ 5. Chajes 6. Limonchiki 7. Der Mame ist Gegangen^ 8. Odessa Bulgarish^ 9. De Vuurvareter Van Sassari -10.Noushka* 11. A Chassid in Amsterdam# 12. Nanos 13.Mala Loka+&
Personnel: Limonchiki: Gijs Levelt or Sjors Pancraz +(trumpet); Joop van der Linden (trombone); Janfie van Strien (clarinet, sopranino saxophone); Wim Lammen (alto saxophone)&; Job Chajes (alto saxophone, vocals#, bass*); HenkJan van Minnen (accordion); Jasper de Beer (bass, banjo*); Alec Kopyt (percussion, vocals^)
June 15, 2002
CRI Blueshift 2002
CRI Blueshift 2003
The Claudia Quartet
CRI Blueshift 2004
Moving among improv, big band jazz, New music and song-based material, percussionist/composer John Hollenbeck has made a name for himself in New York over the past half-decade. During that time, Hollenbeck, who also has a masters degree from Rochesters Eastman School of Music has worked with folks as varied as dancer/composer Meredith Monk, arranger Bob Brookmeyer, downtown trumpeter Cuong Vu and Klezmer brassman Frank London.
Taken together, these three new CDs impressively illuminate the diversity of his compositional and playing skills. But enough insubstantial music appears on them to prevent coming up with the highest rating for the entire oeuvre.
Most problematic, especially from a jazz point of view, is the Quartet Lucy disc. Even acknowledging that the drummer has characterized his vision as taking in elements of both jazz and classical music -- and what a murky Third Stream that is to swim in -- most of the tunes of this project seem too precious and wimpy.
Chief irritant is the singing voice of Theo Bleckmann, an acquired taste at best. With a timbre that resembles that of a counter-tenor or a castrato, he adds even more of a lacy front parlor feel to the 10 tunes here. Defenders would point out that the song-oriented results are skewed more towards the concepts of Meredith Monk rather than Thelonious Monk or the Monkees. But the frothy sheen of slow-moving wordless vocalizing and continuous held notes lean more towards easy listening.
When words are added to the equation, as on The Music of Life and Dreams for Tomorrow the banalities of the sentiments dont help. On the latter, which Bleckmann begins singing in a more conventional register, returns to the castrato region once Skuli Sverrison begins plucking his bajo sexto. Sverrisons ethereal, Pat Metheny-style electric bass forays dont help other numbers, nor do Dan Willis contributions on very legit-sounding English horn and flute.
The main argument against this session is that these saccharine touches detract from Hollenbecks pointed percussion excursions most of the time. Its hard to know whether Jazz Envy with its go-man-go electric bass work, tough tenor sax solo and stiff drum beat is supposed to be a parody of the music, like John Zorns Jazz Snob Eat Shit t-shirt. If it is, parodying the music with a 19th century concept doesnt prove much.
More of a showcase for the percussionists versatility is NO IMAGES, which features him in five different situations in six tracks. Very quickly passing over another track with Bleckmann and even sparser accompaniment, your ears should be directed to The Drum Major Instinct, Hollenbecks major achievement. Conceived of during his final year at Eastman, the nearly 25 minute long composition pairs the taped voice of Martin Luther King Jr. with three trombonists and the drummer. Functioning as both the church choir and a congregation energized by Kings sermon, the bones add rumble, slur, flutter and plunger sounds to his works, following the pitch and cadence of the ministers voice.
Vehement in execution as King denounces the war in Vietnam and the White Citizens Council with equal fervor, the trombone choir and drums not only recall those sounds provided by a Sanctified combo, but the emotions stirred up the statements. Direct, percussive and to the point, Hollenbecks writing and playing makes concrete the link between the sermons title and his art.
Almost as impressive are the tracks which feature the drummer dueting with either tenor saxophonist Dave Liebman or tenor saxophonist Ellery Eskelin, or those two plus tenor saxophonist Rick DiMuzio.
Top rank here should go to the mano-a-mano stop-and-start blow out with Eskelin. Using his deep breathing, abstract tones -- and overtones -- to spur the drummer to investigate all parts of his kit from miniscule cymbal and triangle tickles to protracted press rolls and bass drum accents. With a harder, heavier tone than Eskelin and an approach thats closer to the Energy music of the 1960s, Liebman growls, squeals and frog marches through the tempos as the drummer tastefully smashes and bangs at full speed and strength to keep up.
Variegated tempos and techniques enliven the more than 10 minute Bluegreenyellow as Hollenbeck sticks to a pulsating rhythmic line with percussive accents to face off against all three saxes at once. Parrying and thrusting, each reedman takes turns stepping up front to solo, with the others acting as a sort of Greek chorus. All and all the satisfying outcome sounds vaguely martial, though it does end rather suddenly.
For pure consistency, the music of the Claudia Quintet, which performs well-received club gigs throughout Manhattans Lower East Side, is most convincing. But even here a certain sameness creeps into the almost 68 minutes of the disc.
While some of the citys most accomplished downtowners are featured -- reedman Chris Speed, accordionist Ted Reichman, vibist Matt Moran and bassist Drew Gress -- the George-Shearing-meets-the-Bowery band could do with some tougher charts and execution.
Thursday 11:14am (grey), for instance, the longest track, is suffused with the sort of echoing melancholy you can find around Ground Zero these days. Between the languorous clarinet tones, tiny drumbeats and the shimmer of vibes using almost no vibrato, the effect is almost lighter than air. In the end the tune moves so slowly that you can almost sense it vanishing into thin air.
Oddly, considering its usual place in an ensemble, its the bass solo in No D, which speeds up the tempo and pushes the vibes and drums into more regular foot-patting rhythm after Hollenbeck and Moran individually have turned out restrained percussion prologues. Speeds spikier tenor sound and Reichmans swirling keys and bellows add to the new mood. On Visions of Claudia the clarinetist toys with multiphonics after hes stated the melody in mid-register. Hollenbecks military-style tattoo advances the tune, with accordion chords cushioning the exposition.
This triptych of releases certainly illustrates the three faces of John and what he can do is in his many personas. Portending well for the percussionists future as a multi-talent, they suggest that tying all the personalities together may one day allow him to aurally paint his masterpiece.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: Claudia: 1. meinetwegen 2. a-b-s-t-i-n-e-n-c-e 3. Love Song for Kate 4. Thursday 7:30pm (holy) 5. Thursday 11:14am (grey) 6. Thursday 3:44pm (playground) 7. Burt and Ken 8. ...after a dance or two, we sit down for a pint with Gil and Tim... 9. No D 10. Visions of Claudia
Personnel: Claudia: Chris Speed (clarinet, tenor saxophone); Ted Reichman (accordion); Matt Moran (vibraphone, percussion); Drew Gress (bass); John Hollenbeck (drums, percussion)
Track Listing: Lucy: 1.Vanishing Lucy 2. ethel 3. Foreva 4. materna 5. dreams for tomorrow^ 6. Constant Conversation (8:29) 7.Chapel flies* 8. jazz envy 9. Vira-folha* 10. The Music of Life
Personnel: Lucy: Dan Willis (tenor and soprano saxophone, flute, English horn); Jonas Tauber (cello)*; Skuli Sverrison (electric bass, bajo sexto)^; John Hollenbeck (drums, percussion, piano, berimbau^); Theo Bleckmann (voice, piano^)
Track Listing: No: 1. Bluegreenyellow#^+& 2. Without morning 3. Liebman/Hollenbeck Vignettes+ 4. The Drum Major Instinct*~ 5. Eskelin/Hollenbeck Vignettes^ 6. No images$
Personnel: No: Tim Sessions*, David Taylor*, Ray Anderson* (trombones); Rick DiMuzio#, Ellery Eskelin^, David Liebman+ (tenor saxophones); Ben Monder (guitar%); John Hollenbeck (drums, percussion, laughter samples and autoharp with portable fan$); Theo Bleckmann (voice%); Martin Luther King Jr. (voice on tape~)
January 8, 2002