Semi-Formal (february 2005 - Cuneiform, 2005) mostly sounds like a simpler, more
straightforward version of I Claudia (2003).
The festive folk-ish fanfare of Major Nelson,
the nocturnal lounge-jazz melody of Two Teachers (admittedly one of
their catchiest themes, before it is hijacked by a free-form accordion improvisation),
the quintessential Claudia-esque Drewslate, the slowly-forming serenade
are confined within the cliches that the band created in the previous work,
without quite encompassing the same breadth of dynamics.
Then the nine-minute They Point Glance Whisper Then Snicker
and, to some extent, the eight-minute Limp Mint
represent the exact opposite:
brainy "math-jazz" at its most artful, but also relatively heartless and
Guarana is probably the highlight, thanks to tight instrumental
interplay, great vibraphone solo and frantically syncopated rhythm.
Too little too late.
Compared with the sophisticated, elegant and creative music of I Claudia,
this sounds like a mediocre set of imitations and leftovers.
John Hollenbeck's reputation as a virtuoso drummer further solidified through
collaborations with avantgarde and jazz musicians
(Meredith Monk, Fred Hersh, Tony Malaby).
As Hollenbeck's fame as a composer kept growing, the Claudia Quintet released
For (november 2006 - Cuneiform, 2007).
Hollenbeck's compositions now covered a broad spectrum of styles and moods, from
the festive, dancing, quasi-tango of I'm So Fickin' Cool to the
bluesy funereal This Too Shall Pass.
Rug Boy lines up the basic elements: first a thundering drum solo, then swirling accordion, then burning clarinet and finally fibrillating vibraphone.
Hollenbeck is a composer with no rules.
The ten-minute August 5th, 2006 glues together a melancholy Zappa-esque clarinet theme and a tinkling timbral sonata.
On the other hand, the eleven-minute Be Happy is dominated by the saxophone's alternatively articulate and disjointed eloquence.
He even revisits a Carpenter song (Rainy Days) and a Cuban traditional (Peanut Vendor Mash-up), and
toys with electronics and musique concrete in For You,
probably a forewarning of things to come.
Perhaps he tries too hard in the eight-minute Three Odes,
that does not quite coalesce around the post-minimalist premises.
Royal Toast (december 2009) added pianist Gary Versace to one of the
most competent line-ups on the planet.
The addition is not enough to sustain an album that is largely deficient in
The playful Zappa-esque fanfare Keramag Prelude,
the liquid fantasia Armitage Shanks,
the dreamy and colloquial Zurn,
the lazy prolonged swoon of "Ideal Standard",
are pure routine for this expert ensemble.
The swinging and tribal Sphinx (with Chris Speed's flute centerstage)
and the fluid circular dynamics of Royal Toast
are perhaps the most creative moments.
Also, Hollenbeck opens the album with one of his most subdued pieces ever,
Crane Merit, a slow-motion somnambulant repetitive shuffle.
The mournful For Frederick Franck is a close second, almost a
cryptic whispered conversation that picks up speed and volume at the end.
The brief solos (one per player) end up being more interesting than the album
as a whole. Alas, most of them don't even last a minute.
The interaction among Ted Reichman's accordion, Chris Speed's clarinet and Matt Moran's vibraphone should have yielded much more intriguing ideas.
What Is The Beautiful? (2011) was a collaboration with vocalists
Kurt Elling and Theo Bleckmann that set to music poems by Kenneth Patchen,
especially the title-track.
The Claudia Quintet's bassist Drew Gress has released albums on his own: Heyday (august 1997), featuring altoist Dave Binney, guitarist Ben Monder and drummer Kenny Wollesen; Spin & Drift (june 2000), with Tim Berne (saxes), Tom Rayne (drums) and Uri Caine (piano); 7 Black Butterflies (february 2004), with Berne again, Ralph Alessi on trumpet, Craig Taborn on piano and Rainey; Irrational Numbers (august 2006); and The Sky Inside (march 2011), with the same line-up of 7 Black Butterflies (february 2004).
The Claudia Quintet crafted the concept album September (2013) with
accordionist Red Wierenga.
His contribution is immediately felt on the brief pulsating
Following an overture by John Hollenbeck's busy drumming and some dissonant
jamming, Wierenga's accordion
intones the tune of the ten-minute Wayne Phases, quickly followed
by Moran's vibraphone. Clearly, Hollenbeck wants to leverage the harmony
and contrast of the timbres of these two instruments. Appropriately,
when Speed's saxophone jumps in, the music, that was so lively, implodes.
Wierenga's accordion leads the slow and pensive Somber Blanket and
lends it an autumnal Parisian flavor, before lifting out of the torpor and
into a sprightly folkish dance.
Vibraphone and accordion launch the minimalist orgy of the ten-minute Lemons and then lead it into swamps of sparse disjointed noises.
There are redundant and weak compositions, like
the ten-minute Me Warn You, and the two key instruments (vibraphone and
accordion) don't seem to fully amalgamate with Speed's (here relatively
absent-minded) saxophone; but there are also intriguing detours, like
the cubistic vignette of Loop Piece (penned by anarchic percussion)
and the contrabass-led Brazilian-tinged Interval Dig that broaden
Hollenbeck's already gigantic palette.
The Claudia Quintet's Super Petite (august 2015 - Cuneiform, 2016)
opens with Nightbreak, basically a six-minute remix of
Charlie Parker's epochal break in Night of Tunisia that develops into an aria both soulful and clownish; and that's a declaration of what the quintet does best: recontextualize the tradition of bebop and prog-rock.
A List is a poppy tune degraded by minimalist repetition and deviant orchestral jazz-rock.
The eight-minute Rose Colored Rhythm, inspired by Senegalese drummer Doudou N'Diaye Rose's Rose Rhythm, is a typical acrobatic Hollenbeck composition, poking fun at the tradition while mixing and messing up all sorts of influences.
If the circus-like verve that erupts from many of the short pieces (Peterborough, If You Seek a Fox) is a sign of good instrumental health,
the solemn and somnolent hypnosis of Mangold wanders into more psychology territory.
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