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John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble: A Blessing

Dan McClenaghan By

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The opening title tune on the John Hollenbeck Larger Ensemble's A Blessing brings Maria Schneider's masterpiece Concert in the Garden to mind, with its fluid momentum and swirling harmonies. The sixteen-minute song, as well as the rest of the tunes on the disc, are Hollenbeck originals; and while the Schneider influence is apparent—both Schneider and Hollenbeck bear the imprint of Bob Brookmeyer—a good deal of originality and idiosyncratic daring comes into play on A Blessing.

Drummer/composer Hollenbeck makes remarkable use of a remarkable voice (Theo Bleckmann), both verbal and non-verbal, similar to Maria Schneider's use of Luciana Souza's soaring vocals on Concert in the Garden and Dave Douglas' inclusion of Tom Waits' grumbling, growling, mumbled undercurrent on his Witness (Bluebird, 2001). Add some unusual timbres—a bowed vibraphone, a sound sort of like a rung bell, slurred through an electronic filtering device; and English horn.

The "is it jazz?" question can come into play. This is a true ensemble outing, without any particular solos standing out. Rich and varied colors, unusual rhythms, and strong compositions—a very prickly and abstract sound on the twelve-minute "Abstinence," for example—make for a very confident, forward-looking musical vision. Hollenbeck uses some familiar names from the Maria Schneider Orchestra: trumpeters Laurie Frink and Tony Kadleck, and pianist Gary Versace (who played accordion on Concert in the Garden); but he uses less a pastel approach, employing brasher, sharper-edged colorations and denser textures.

An intriguing direction for large ensemble jazz.

Visit John Hollenbeck on the web.

Track Listing: 1. A Blessing 2. Folkmoot 3. RAM 4. Weiji 5. Abstinence 6. April in Reggae 7. The Music of Life

Personnel: Ben Kono: flute, soprano sax, alto sax; Chris Speed: clarinet; Tom Christensen: tenor sax, soprano sax, English horn; Dan Willis: tenor sax, soprano sax, English horn; Alan Won: baritone sax, bass clarinet; Rob Hudson, Kurtis Pivert, Jacob Garchik, Alan Ferber: trombones; Jon Owens, Tony Kadleck, Dave Ballou, Laurie Frink: trumpets; Kermit Driscoll: bass; John Hollenbeck: drums; Gary Versace: piano; Matt Moran: mallets: Theo Bleckmann: voice; J.C. Sanford: conductor

Title: A Blessing | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: OmniTone


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