The Claudia Quintet: Semi-Formal (2006)
Semi-Formal harkens back to some forms of Gagaku, an ancient Japanese court instrumental music where each timbre, instrumental or chordal development leads to a heightened emotional change. The music slowly draws you in as you delight in each turn of events. The Claudia Quintet is an incredibly sensitive group of players, each working with full sensory awareness of the others' playing style. Hollenbeck's compositions warrant sensitive treatment, which these chamber jazz musicians carefully give them.
The recording begins with a short segment of the final tune, "Minor Nelson, tacked on to the beginning of "Major Nelson, making for a bookend effect. Most of the pieces segue into each other. "Drewslate/Kord/They point...glance... whisper...then snicker makes for a fascinating "suite" of tunes, while the minimalist compositional form of "Susan" offers very subtle, but refreshing changes. "Two Teachers, "Guarana and "Boy with a bag and his guardian elephant are standout features for their infectious grooves. Semi-Formal plays like quirky vignettes of Hollenbeck's personal experiences, all with interesting titles and hidden tales behind the music.
The Claudia Quintet's April performance at Cornelia Street Café presented Hollenbeck's compositions in the most desirable light. The subtle contrasts alluded to on Semi-Formal are enhanced by experiencing the band in a live setting. Often the blending of clarinet or tenor sax, accordion and vibes gave a rich tonal blanket for the driving grooves that Hollenbeck and bassist Drew Gress set for the different sections of the tunes. Chris Speed's tenor saxophone solo on "Gaurana alluded to the high-energy tenor solos of John Coltrane, selecting from a minimal palette of notes to play strategically over the drum groove. The sarcasm of "They point... was made humorously obvious by the whines and teases of Ted Reichman's accordion.
The "jazz process continues with the explorative efforts of groups like the Claudia Quintet, a band at the vanguard of a progressive movement.
Track Listing: Major Nelson; Drewslate; Kord; They Point...glance...whisper...then snicker; Bindi Binder; Susan; Two Teachers; Growth; Limp Mint; Guarana; Where's My Mint? (mint=president); Biy With a Bag and His Guardian Elephant; Minor Nelson.
Personnel: John Hollenbeck: drums, percussion, piano, keyboards, fan; Drew Gress: acoustic bass, pedal steel guitar, electric guitar; Matt Moran: vibraphone, keyboards, baritone horn; Ted Reichman: accordion, acoustic/electric guitar, keyboards; Chris Speed: clarinet, tenor saxophone, piano, Casio SK-1.
Record Label: Cuneiform Records
Style: Fringes of Jazz