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John Hollenbeck: Exploring the Boundaries, Part 2-2

By Published: March 3, 2005

AAJ: I'm usually pretty good at figuring out time signatures in music, but some of the Claudia Quintet stuff—some of the signatures leave me lost. I can't figure out kind of count they're in, and something like "Arabic seems especially polyrhythmic. When you and Drew Gress play together, those rhythms can get pretty intense. I am wondering how these complex rhythms affect your audience, and in general how your audience generally responds to your shows.

JH: The response is usually really, really great because, well, people tend to think the music's going to be a lot weirder and a lot less accessible than it actually is. So the responses are usually great. I was just listening to a concert we did in Santa Fe and that was like a rock concert audience; they were just going nuts, dancing, and for us that's the absolute best. It cannot get any better than that. During the concerts I try to talk a lot, to explain the pieces as much as I can in kind of a funny way just to make everyone at ease and try to help the audience as much as possible because I know it is new music. And it still might be a little scary for people. But without watering down the music, I do everything I can to make it as accessible as possible.

AAJ: Some of it may be daunting or intimidating, but that song you mentioned, "Good Heart, is a total groove where the players feel really connected and the level of locked concentration is pretty powerful. I can't imagine an audience not responding to that one.

JH: Yeah, because of the way it ends there's always a good response. But I know that the first part of that piece is difficult for some people. There's actually a Morton Feldman- type section, and a Joni Mitchell section—though it doesn't have that much to do with Joni Mitchell—so the people who like and have heard new music like the first section. And the people who have never heard new music before like the second section. Hopefully, by blending those two elements you can kind of help people grow a little. Most of the music is very, very rhythmic, and that is a place where almost everyone can access music. If it has a groove. When we played in Brazil, I know those weren't sophisticated audiences by jazz standards, but they were great; they were totally into it because most of the music has a pretty strong groove and they can just access it from that level.

AAJ: Some guys like me waste time trying to figure out if a song is in nines or elevens, but I don't think most people do that to enjoy music and I don't think they should; I don't think I should.

JH: Well, I used to do that when I would hear Steve Coleman's stuff. Musicians do that and I still do that. I just try to do it as fast as possible and get it over with.

AAJ: Does the Claudia Quintet still have to rehearse a lot or have you reached a point where you've got a rapport without having to rehearse all the time?

JH: No, when I bring in new music it still takes a while to really get it. I think the guys in the band would say that it's just getting harder and harder. It takes them a lot less time to get the vibe of the piece, but to actually play it correctly and to get it to a place where everyone is comfortable playing it—that still takes a long time. Maybe less time in rehearsal, but we still have to play the pieces for a while to really get them feeling comfortable.

AAJ: It's not the kind of music that's going to come off well played loose.

JH: No, you can still get the general gist of it; there are some pieces that might work like that, but a lot of it's very exact. The problem is if we're playing it and it's not anywhere near where I want it to be I have a hard time just actually playing. It's better if it's somewhat like I intended.

AAJ: Just to give you an example: "A Cloud of Unknowing, also on I, Claudia. I found it reminded me of baroque music and the Modern Jazz Quartet at the same time. I've read various articles about the Claudia Quintet and this group's music reminds people of so much different stuff; do their notions of what they think it sounds like—what kind of music it is—surprise you?

JH: It doesn't really surprise me that much because—well, I don't know why it is but people want to grab something to hold on to it. So they have to put it into a little category or place that they already know, to say, "This is like Tortoise, because they know Tortoise, and they find some similarity. But I think really it's its own thing; I was talking to Barre Phillips about ECM music. I told him that nowadays ECM music is thought of as a style. This record label's output has become stylized and codified to some extent. In the beginning, when you heard records on ECM, what could you really say? Eurojazz, or something; you couldn't really compare it to very much, it was kind of its own thing. Bill Milkowski in his review of us, wrote, "what the hell is it? That kind of sums it up.

AAJ: John Hollenbeck music.

JH: I'm really not into genres or styles so it's just eclectic; it has a little bit of everything in there and it's not really one thing.

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