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John Hollenbeck/The Claudia Quintet: I, Claudia

Mark Corroto By

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Composer John Hollenbeck is also a drummer. So you expect propulsion, and on his latest Claudia Quintet release you get plenty of drive and rush. But his force is mostly about vibe and the simpatico relationship between the odd instrumentation assembled for the date.

John Hollenbeck has worked with the likes of Cuong Vu, David Krakauer, Pablo Ziegler, and the Village Vanguard Orchestra. His signature music has been crafted in collaborations with Theo Bleckmann, Meredith Monk, and Bob Brookmeyer. He is a drummer who considers himself to be a lyrical player. In fact he "plays" toys, tins and tubes—besides his drum kit.

I, Claudia follows up the Claudia Quintet's self-titled debut release and repeats the magic of that 2001 session. This unique band includes accordion ( Ted Reichman ), vibraphone ( Matt Moran ), clarinet/saxophone ( Chris Speed ), and bass ( Drew Gress ).

Hollenbeck’s compositions are beyond jazz, inching up on chamber music but informed by ethnic, rock, and modern composition as well. “Opening,” with Gress tapping his bow on his strings, could easily have been a power piece by Radiohead. That is until Hollenbeck pauses and begins blowing into a tube. The propulsion is re-ignited with Chris Speed’s simple clarinet line. “Arabic” opens like a Steve Reich repetition piece, vibes and percussion looping steps under Speed’s clarinet figure. It evolves (or devolves) into a wild ride of improvisation and eventual reflection of simple accordion, vibe, triangle, and bass.

Hollenbeck’s music is all about reflection: the simple note, breath and gesture. Both “The Cloud Of Unknowing” and “Couch” show how simple separation of notes and musicians speak louder than the volume of combined playing. Hollenbeck lays such a casual groove he lets your mind fill the gaps with imagination. In fact, the toy static raised on “...Can You Get Through This Life With A Good Heart?” leaves you adrift in thought before the band brings you home in a funky rhythm.

As John Cleese would say during Monty Python’s Flying Circus, “...and now for something completely different!” ...a band with the hippest groove in music today.


Track Listing: Just Like Him; Opening;

Personnel: John Hollenbeck - Drums, Composition; Drew Gress - Acoustic Bass; Matt Moran - Vibraphone, Percussion; Chris Speed - Clarinet, Tenor Saxophone; Ted Reichman - Accordion.

Title: I, Claudia | Year Released: 2004 | Record Label: Cuneiform Records


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