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Eric Hofbauer Quintet: Prehistoric Jazz – Volumes 1 & 2

Mark F. Turner By

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With sure workmanship and untamed inquisitiveness, Boston-based guitarist Eric Hofbauer is no stranger to confronting unusual yet stimulating music. Examples include 2008's uncharacteristic guitar duo The Lady of Khartoum with Garrison Fewell or the striking American solo series—American Vanity (2004), American Fear (2010) and American Grace (2013)—which crossed distinctive terrains of improvisation and covers of iconic pieces such Louis Armstrong's "West End Blues," Cindy Lauper's "True Colors" and a raucous take on rock group Van Halen's "Hot for Teacher."

So with a new quintet and his imaginative proclivity it's not a stretch for Hofbauer to set his sights on the music of two early 20th century composers with his Prehistoric Jazz volumes brought to fruition through a concert series and two recordings which illuminate the art of a jazz improvisation and artistic liberties of Russian composer Igor Stravinsky's iconic 1913 ballet and orchestral concert masterpiece—Le Sacre du printemps (The Rite of Spring) and French composer Olivier Messiaen's 1941 Quatuor pour la fin du temps (Quartet for the End of Time).

Eric Hofbauer Quintet
Prehistoric Jazz Volume 1 -The Rite of Spring
Creative Nation Music
2014

Borne out of controversy—incited a riot when it debuted in Paris in 1913—there have been countless celebrations of Stravinsky's work in performances (New England Conservatory in 2013) and non-classical recordings (The Bad Plus's 2014 release on Sony Masterworks). Hofbauer's not only explores the imagery of the classic's renowned themes but filters them through the microcosmic lens of an exhilarating quintet versed in multiple disciplines.

First, the rich aural depth of Todd Brunel's clarinet entices the ears via a sonorous free solo before introducing "A Kiss of The Earth"'s opening theme. Then, cellist Junko Fujiwara and trumpeter Jerry Sabatini cast lovely shadows while Hofbauer fills in the spaces while Curt Newton's drums bring percussive tension. Stravinsky's music is deconstructed and personalized into a jazz framework as the quintet transform "Ritual of Abduction" and "Ritual of The Two Rival Tribes" into swinging outlandish affairs while evoking a sense of both calm and cacophony to the invigorating "Spring Rounds."

There are memorable individual performances such as Newton's crisp and lively percussion in "Dancing Out of The Earth" and Fujiwara's warm cello reverberations in "The Exalted Sacrifice." Hofbauer offers a glowing solo in "The Naming and Honoring of The Chosen One" with sheer dexterity and inventiveness and Sabatini brings sensitivity and layered contours through his trumpet-mute in "Evocation of The Ancestors." Numerous tempo changes, twists and turns, and plenty of dramatics, the release is a testament to both Stravinsky's genius and Hofbauer's lucid vision. The recording concludes with as much personality and vim as it began—the eccentrics of "Ritual Action of The Ancestors" with its swing-march turned to groove and "Sacrificial Dance"'s free jazz blowout.

Eric Hofbauer Quintet
Prehistoric Jazz Volume 2 -Quartet for the End of Time
Creative Nation Music
2014

Hofbauer's rework of French composer Olivier Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time is equally daunting feat though not quite as arresting as its sister recording. But then again, this is an entirely different animal that faithfully and rigorously imparts the late composer's eclectic technique and compositional style. Once more, it's the quintet's strength coupled with the recording's superb sound that captures the spirit of Messiaen's tranquil lyricism. Written for clarinet, movements like "Liturgie de cristal" are rapturous showcases of Todd Brunel's timbre and control. Yet the other musicians heat things up through some bopping swing at the interlude "Intermède" in what represents a lively blending of chamber and jazz.

The overall air of the recording is imbued with serenity; elongated notes that interestingly enough resemble jazz and blues song structures. This is noticeable in "Louange à l'Éternité de Jésus" with Junko Fujiwara's haunting cello and Hofbauer's dissonance as well as "Fouillis d'arcs-en-ciel: pour l'Ange qui annonce la fin du Temps" translated "Tangle of rainbows, for the Angel who announces the end of time." Yet, no prior knowledge is needed to appreciate the breadth of Messiaen's aura, music that was heavily influenced by his faith in Catholicism and his advanced "modes of limited transposition techniques." Hofbauer's superb quintet handles these complexities with aplomb in a release that is challenging yet accessible.

Prehistoric Jazz Volume 1 -The Rite of Spring

A Kiss of The Earth -Introduction; The Augurs of Spring, Dances of The Young Girls; Ritual of Abduction; Spring Rounds; Ritual of The Two Rival Tribes; Procession of The Oldest and Wisest One; The Kiss of The Earth; Dancing Out of The Earth; The Exalted Sacrifice; Mystic Circle of The Young Girls; The Naming and Honoring of The Chosen One; Evocation of The Ancestors; Ritual Action of The Ancestors; Sacrificial Dance.

Eric Hofbauer: guitar; Jerry Sabatini: trumpet; Todd Brunel: Bb clarinet & bass clarinet; Junko Fujiwara: cello; Curt Newton: drums, percussion.

Prehistoric Jazz Volume 2 -Quartet for the End of Time

Liturgie de cristal; Vocalise: pour l'Ange qui annonce la fin du Temps; Abîme des oiseaux; Intermède; Louange à l'Éternité de Jésus; Danse de la fueur: pour les sept trompettes; Fouillis d'arcs-en-ciel: pour l'Ange qui annonce la fin du Temps; Louange à l'Immortalité de Jésus.

Eric Hofbauer: guitar; Jerry Sabatini: trumpet; Todd Brunel: Bb clarinet & bass clarinet; Junko Fujiwara: cello; Curt Newton: drums, percussion.

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