John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble Eternal Interlude Sunnyside Records
The music on Eternal Interlude by drummer John Hollenbeck cannot be described in one word, but if it could that word would be "poignant." But of course, one word is not enough, so in settling for two, those would be "poignant" and "challenging." But then two words appear so insufficient, and the search widens and reveals, perhaps, an additional word to go with "poignant" and "challenging," and that word is "epic." But then another listen reveals that even three words do not do the record justice. And then a sudden thought appears out of thin air, slap bang in the middle of a spectacular, extended Hollenbeck drum solo: this musical canvas painted by John Hollenbeck is larger than life.
The drummer uses tonal colors in limitless permutations and combinations. The aural textures woven into the warp and weft of its musical tapestry are hypnotic. In an all-pervasive pulse, vertical and horizontal paths criss-cross and are only broken by the wonderfully incessant ripple of rhythms. And from then on the music evolves in interminable circles as instruments enter and exit the music together and separately.
Although Hollenbeck plays drums (and whistles) he is more like a percussion colorist, with colorist being the key word. As a composer, he plies his craft with awed reverence for the myriad sounds available to his musical palette. How mellifluously, for instance, he does so on "Foreign One," as brassy growls and thin wails slide together in magical glissandos rubbing shoulders with the chipped rhythmic humming and melodic rim-shot rattling punctuated by staccato rolls. This fluidity is often happily disturbed and broken by polytonal dissonances from piano and melodic percussion. There is manic and Thelonious Monkish, aerial and subterranean soloing with tenor sax, as piano and ensemble escort this music to an inevitable crescendo. Percussiondrums and hammered chords on pianoshatter the peace in a dramatic conclusion.
The title track is a classical lament. Almost a third of the piece features a probing attackin a noirish metaphor, the proverbial hour before the dawn, so to speak. The dark nature of this bolero-like section of the piece is only tempered by the bright triplets and trills vamped on Gary Versace darting gallops in the piano's upper register. Haunting voices enter and exit like smokey clouds. Hollenbeck trips in and out of the ensemble too, lifting the music up and down to barely a whisper. When the chorus returns the piano and melodic percussion introduce a decidedly brighter, redemptive harmony into the seemingly salvific endgame of the piece.
Hollenbeck appears to be a metaphysical musician and he proves that it is possible to use tone, color and texture to compose and mirror his depth of thought. "Eternal Interlude" and several other pieces on the record give ample evidence. On "Guarana," the seemingly loose harmonic flood of woodwinds and brass are hung on the symmetrical elements of voice and other instruments. Then a tantalizing vamp on piano and drums draw the trombone out of its reverie and in a hush, a still-swinging "Guarana" ends as quietly as it began. On the piano, it is like restless keys, ebony and ivory, entered into a deep resonant sleep.
"The Cloud" is a heavily layered piece, and if followed as a narrative, tells a story, through the sound of a dense set-up by the ensemble, like a tableau featuring the interaction between an initiate and a learned master. The Zen-like flow of this elegant music spirals around the Latin "Donna Nobis Pacem," (grant us peace) and also makes reference to a fragment from the ancient Sanskrit chant "Om Namah Shivaiya" (also a prayer in times of turbulence).
The musical arrangement of "Perseverance," on the other hand, contrasts the timbral values of woodwindsclarinets exploring the deep and labyrinthine stairwells of numerous registers. Up and down the notes progress, while Hollenbeck pecks and prods, rolls and rumbles across his drums. Here the percussionist covers the entire spectral topography of his kit and in doing so he creates as incessant dynamic, dictated by the varying tension of the skins of various drums. It seems this will never stop until the percussionist lures all the other instruments into a gratifying crescendo and into the song's denouement.
By the time the 12-tone piece, "No Boat," brings the set to a dramatic close, another thought assaults the senses. Can this be a John Hollenbeck homage to literary epics such as Gilgamesh? Or is it just his way of stringing together apparently disparate pieces into his own epic description of humanity's pilgrim journey? Now that too is worth a thought and a careful listen.
Tracks: Foreign One; Eternal Interlude; Guarana; The Cloud; Perseverance; No Boat.
Personnel: Ben Kono: flute, soprano and alto saxophones, whistling (4); Jeremy Viner: clarinet and tenor saxophone; Tony Malaby: tenor and soprano saxophones; Dan Willis: tenor and soprano saxophones, flute, English horn, whistling (4); Bohdan Hilash: clarinet, bass clarinet and contra-alto clarinet, whistling (4); Ellery Eskelin: tenor saxophone (5, 6); Rob Hudson: trombone, whistling (4); Mike Christianson: trombone, whistling (4); Jacob Garchik: tenor horn (2), whistling (4); Alan Ferber: trombone; Tony Kadleck: trumpet, flugelhorn; Jon Owens: trumpet, flugelhorn, whistling (4); Dave Ballou: trumpet, flugelhorn; Laurie Frink: trumpet, flugelhorn; John Hollenbeck: drums, composition, whistling (4); Gary Versace: piano, organ and keyboard; Matt Moran: mallet percussion (1, 3, 4); John Ferrari: mallet percussion )2, 5, 6); Theo Blackman: voice, whistling (4); JC Sanford: conductor.