Claudia Quintet
(Copyright © 2016 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )

I , 7/10
I Claudia (2003), 7/10
Semi-Formal (2005), 6.5/10
For (2007), 6/10
Royal Toast (2009), 5/10
What Is The Beautiful? (2011), 5/10
September (2013) , 6/10
Super Petite (2016), 6/10
Evidence-Based (2021), 5/10

Claudia Quintet is a New York-based instrumental jazz ensemble formed in 1997 by drummer John Hollenbeck, who had already released No Images (may 2001 - CRI, 2001), influenced by the free jazz of the 1960s and containing the 25-minute The Drum Major Instinct, and led the Quartet Lucy (2002) with saxophone, vocals and bass, influenced instead by the jazz fusion of the 1970s.

The Claudia Quintet (january 2001) featured bassist Drew Gress, vibraphonist Matt Moran, accordionist Ted Reichman and clarinetist Chris Speed. The ambience of Thursday 11:14am and the dischordant No D marked a vast stylistic territoty,

The quintet reached an impressive zenith of instrumental and emotional complexity on I Claudia (Cuneiform, 2003). Just Like Him is emblematic of how the solos, the rhythms and the group improvisation are integrated via the use of minimalist repetitive patterns. As the drums beat a skipping rhythm, the trio of clarinet, accordion and vibes weave a robotic trio of interlocking grooves. The effect is enhanced by dreamy gamelan-like percussion. In Opening a festive Frank Zappa-esque melodic theme mutates into an insistent Steve Reich-ian pattern led by a trembling accordion. The hypnotic texture of the vibes in Arabic borders on gamelan, while the Middle-eastern solo of the clarinet is supported by a droning accordion. The overall effect is romantic while being very innovative. The subdued The Cloud Of UnknowingCan You Get Through This Life is another oddly schizophrenic piece: five minutes of atonal chamber music, and then two minutes of swinging easy-listening. The closing Couch, a slow, stark, subliminal requiem-like droning piece, doesn't quite belong to this album., or, maybe, it is the link to an album still to be made.

(Translation by/ Tradotto da Paolo Latini)

I Claudia Quintet sono un ensemble di jazz strumentale di New York formato nel 1997 dal batterista John Hollenbeck, che ha già realizzato il cd Images (CRI, 2001) e ha guidato il Quartet Lucy.

The Claudia Quintet (2002) è registrato con il bassita Drew Gress, il vibrafonista Matt Moran, Ted Reichman all'accordion, e Chris Speed al sax tenore e al clarinetto.

Il quintetto raggiunge un'impressionante zenith di complessità strumentale ed emozionale con I Claudia (Cuneiform, 2003). Just Like Him è l'emblema di come le parti soliste, le ritmiche e le improvvisazione di gruppo si integrino mediante ripetitivi schemi minimalisti. Come la batteria tiene un tempo saltellante, il trio di clarinetto, vibrafono e accordion tesse un trio di grooves sincronizzati. L'effetto è aumentato dall'utilizzo di sognanti percussioni stile gamelan. In Opening una festosa melodia zappiana muta in un insistente pattern à la Reich guidato da un accodion vibrante. La texture ipnotica di vibrafono in Arabic tocca i gamelan, mentre il solo medio-orientale del clarinetto è supportato da un drone di accordion. L'effetto generale è al tempo stesso romantico e decisamente innovativo. La tenue The Cloud Of Unknowing Can You Get Through This Life è un altro pezzo di bizzarramente schizofrenico: cinque minuti di musica da camera atonale, e quindi due minuti di puro swing easy-listening. La conclusiva Couch, un lento, rigido e subliminale requiem di droni, quasi è fuori posto su quest'album, o, forse, è un link verso un album ancora da realizzare.

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 of Susan 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 aimless. 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 imagination. 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 Soterius Lakshmi. 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.

In 2003 Hollenbeck formed a large ensemble that recorded A Blessing (august 2003), Eternal Interlude (march 2009), and All Can Work (june 2017).

Hollenbeck, Speed, Gress, Moran and Wierenga regrouped as the Claudia Quintet for Evidence-Based (Flexatonic, 2021), a collaboration with poet Eileen Myle.

Hollenbeck reunited Anna Webber (tenor sax and flute), Chiquita Magic (keyboard, voice and piano) and Aurora Nealand (voice, alto and soprano saxes, keyboards) for Letters To George (january 2022).

(Copyright © 2016 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
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