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The Claudia Quintet: Super Petite

Geno Thackara By

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If there's one thing you can pin down about the Claudia Quintet, it's their inability to be pinned down. Starting off this release with "Nightbreak" is like dropping into a soundtrack to some sleepy '50s-style arty cartoon, with an acoustic retro tone that comes from the combination of vibraphone and clarinet. The piece isn't catchy and barely even feels melodic, but simply meanders like a lazy insect wafting back and forth across the garden on a slow summer afternoon. At the same time, the other instruments' counterpoint timing makes it clear that everything's meticulously planned out and executed in perfect synch. With a tasteful delicate group interplay and an off-kilter compositional voice that avoids obvious patterns, it makes a curious blend of quaintly old-fashioned and abstractly futuristic.

The same light fluid approach appears again (and to slightly better results) in "Peterborough" later on, while the group alternates those airy moments with other stylistic explorations in between. The sparse-yet-busy "A-List" leans more on rhythm and groove, staying in 7/8 just to keep things from getting too straightforward, while "Philly" spices up their laid-back dreaminess with a dash of classic Blue Note bop. The circular patterns of Western minimalism sit happily alongside gamelan-like layers of rhythms. The band's drummer/leader John Hollenbeck weaves melodies in ways that really should sound more awkward than they are, but the built-in flow and the quintet's delivery are both smooth enough to keep it all easy on the ears.

Hollenbeck leans toward brevity more than usual with Super Petite. There's a little extra stretching through the complex jaunt of "Rose-Colored Rhythm"; otherwise it's sketched around pieces of five minutes or less, nudging everyone to keep the fun interplay alive without losing too much focus. With the telepathy of longtime bandmates, the players juggle the two seamlessly enough to find an adventurous middle ground between structured and formless. This is one for the mind more than the feet, a pleasant listen for a cocktail party of the quirkiest kind.

Track Listing: Nightbreak; JFK Beagle; A-List; Philly; Peterborough; Rose Colored Rhythm; If You Seek A Fox; Pure Poem; Newark Beagle; Mangold.

Personnel: Chris Speed: clarinet, tenor saxophone; Red Wierenga: accordion, piano; Drew Gress: acoustic bass; Matt Moran: vibraphone; John Hollenbeck: drums, composition.

Title: Super Petite | Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: Cuneiform Records

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