A fixture on the Boston jazz scene for the past decade, guitarist Eric Hofbauer has collaborated with a multitude of artists, from guitarist Garrison Fewell and multi-reedist Charlie Kohlhase to legendary Dutch drummer Han Bennink (in the international collective, The Blueprint Project).
As co-founder of Creative Nation Music (with trombonist Chris Allen), Hofbauer has released a handful of adventurous independent recordings since 2004. Myth Understanding documents his latest project, The Infrared Band, a close-knit group that features tenor saxophonist Kelly Roberge, bassist Michael Montgomery and drummer Miki Matsuki.
A jazz history and guitar teacher with a Masters from New England Conservatory, Hofbauer brings a wealth of historical antecedents to his playfully inventive compositions. The liner notes indicate that "the compositions fall into three general categories: compositions based on myths, compositions derived from sung phrases, and what Hofbauer calls (with the inevitable pun) 'Puzzle Pieces.'"
The episodic myth-based compositions resound with vibrant visual allusions, informed by detailed narratives outlined in the text. Whether transcribed from improvised vocal lines or conceived as labyrinthine interactive games, Hofbauer's tunes exude lyricismno matter how far "out" they go. Cinematic in scope, an evocative film-noir ambience permeates the session, from the Mancini-like strains of "Hidden Haiku" and the pensive atmosphere of "A Drunk Monk" to the plangent refrains of "Flex Flux."
From Art Tatum and Fats Waller to Charles Mingus and Thelonious Monk, Hofbauer cites a wealth of jazz royalty as influences on his mercurial writing. A singular stylist with an affinity for oblique cadences, he plays his hollow-body sans effects, favoring a dry, clean tone. Kelly Roberge's honeyed timbre on tenor provides a suitably varied foil, mirroring the leader's fractious salvos on "Flex Flux" and braying with multiphonic hysteria on "The Chump Killer."
Montgomery and Matsuki ply unusual time signatures, expansive dynamics and sudden tempo shifts effortlessly; they navigate the abrupt stop-time transitions of "Jac Mac Talkin'" and "The Holly Stomp" with ease. They color Hofbauer's epic fever dream, "Shady Lambert Circus" with a palette that ranges from pointillist impressionism to ecstatic blues.
A refreshingly original voice, Hofbauer reveals an affable yet mischievous sensibility in his writing and improvising. Aided by the superlative interpretive abilities of his sidemen, Eric Hofbauer and The Infrared Band make Myth Understanding, a sterling debut.
Personnel: Eric Hofbauer: guitar; Kelly Roberge: tenor saxophone; Michael Montgomery: acoustic bass; Miki Matsuki: drums.