John Hollenbeck: Joys & Desires & Sequence
John Hollenbeck & Jazz Bigband Graz
Jorrit Dijkstra + John Hollenbeck
Jazz' tradition police may have a necessary role to play, but that role is purely negative if it inhibits the music's continued creative mutation, especially as manifest in new work by iconoclastic trailblazers like John Hollenbeck and Jorrit Dijkstra. At this point, seeing how jazz is near the bottom of the heap in commercial terms, why not let it off the tether and see where it gets to? In fact, that's what's been happening for over 30 years anyway, sometimes leading to strange and wonderful new sounds we'd be much the poorer without.
In Europe the controversy of preserving jazz in its so-called original form (whatever that might mean) doesn't seem to be a concern at all. Some European musicians have an enviable ability to fold the entirety of their tradition in with the beloved American form with a seeming untroubled wit and skill, at times displaying a grasp of jazz' essentials that belies any lack of proximity to the source. Hollenbeck, though an American, spends plenty of time over there and his music is firmly built upon modern forms from both continents, along with other strains from other domains, resulting in a unique sound that invites multiple listens.
Some jazz through-composers can't resist atonality and the results are usually hard for ordinary listeners to take. Hollenbeck's brilliance derives from his accessible deftness with melody and rhythm and judicious use of minimalist and ambient techniques. Blended with what can be called 'acoustic techno groove' and delivered by a first-rate jazz ensemble, the resulting music is totally, enjoyably unique.
The title seems to refer to Hollenbeck's awareness of his music's uneasy purchase on the craggy firmament of the American jazz scene. He has had to travel to Europe to find the support to produce a work of this ambition. On the title track, Theo Bleckmann, of the winsome voice, sings a bittersweet lyric (from a William Blake poem) that was originally meant to chide religion's spoilers - those harsh, black-clad priests who punished children and squelched all pleasures in the name of the one true God. The implication is that a composer as independent of jazz orthodoxy as Hollenbeck either has to toe the line or face censure from the jazz priesthood.
No reasonable person would call Sequence, Hollenbeck's new CD with Boston's brilliant Jorrit Dijkstra, jazz, but a minute into it and the fearless sound explorer will surely cease to care. For years Dijkstra has been quietly creating some of the most listenably adventurous experimental music using alto sax wired up to a raft of analog gadgets. He's yet to receive the recognition he deserves, but that may change soon. Solo, Dijkstra's work is plenty engaging. Add Hollenbeck, unleashed from any score and in full creative mode and you've got odd, oddly compelling music. Emphasis on the word 'music', as these artists miraculously avoid mere inspired noisemaking.
All the tracks on Sequence are titled in two punchy words, juxtaposed with ironic poise, a reflection of the music. It would make perfect sense if the duo chose one word each, randomly.
Tracks and Personnel
Joys & Desire
Tracks: The Bird with the Coppery, Keen Claws; Just Like Him; Abstinence; Jazz Envy; After a Dance or Two, We Sit Down for a Pint with Gil and Tim; The Garden of Love; Maxfield.
Personnel: John Hollenbeck & Big Band Graz
Tracks: Bubble Wig; Iron Skin; Pollen Gamut; Dub Machine; Whistle Baby; Rubber Mitten; Breath Attack; Neuron Ringer; Grizzly Scrap; Junior Electro; Micro Slope.
Personnel: Jorrit Dijkstra: alto sax, lyricon, analog electronics, tin whistles, music box; John Hollenbeck: drums, percussion, autoharp, kalimba.