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Live Review

The Claudia Quintet at The Workmans Club

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The Claudia Quintet
The Workmans Club
Dublin
Ireland
November 25, 2013

"Real fans do it on a Monday night," Improvised Music Company's Gerry Godley said in an address to the crowd that acknowledged the economic and logistical challenges facing promoters, musicians and fans alike. The Republic of Ireland's economy is still struggling half a decade on and at a time when incomes are stretched semi-improvised music isn't necessarily on the top of everybody's list a month before Christmas. So, it was encouraging to see a good crowd in The Workmans Club to greet The Claudia Quintet on its first visit to Ireland.

Two 45-minute sets showcased music from September (Cuneiform Records, 2013). The first set, however, began with a new piece, "(September 5th) Ansia di Seperazione"; Matt Moran's twin bows brought forth ethereal hues from his vibraphones, merging with Chris Speed's bass clarinet in a short-lived drone. Drummer John Hollenbeck's tribal rhythms and bassist Drew Gress's more blues-oriented lines drove the quintet as Speed stretched out on tenor. The combination of groove and minimalism, composed lines and improvisation—and a notable lack of chords—set the tone for an absorbing evening's music.

A five-note ostinato, variously played by accordionist Red Wierenga, Gress and Moran provided "Coping Song"'s simple framework, from which subtle harmonic combinations developed. It was a moody piece and perhaps the most obviously through-composed of the set. A rock-inspired beat formed the spine of "(September 18th) Lemons," dedicated to pianist Jason Moran. A swirling tenor sax, vibraphone and accordion motif gave way to an abstract passage anchored by Gress's bass pulse. Gradually, a groove re-emerged, launching Speed and then Moran into punchy improvisations. The reflective, almost cinematic "(September 25th) Somber Blanket" and the energetic"(September 9th) Wayne Phases"—an episodic yet lyrical dedication to saxophonist Wayne Shorter—closed the first set.

The second set began with "Just Like Him" from I Claudia (Cuneiform, 2004); Hollenbeck unleashed driving hip-hop rhythms, against which accordion, vibes and clarinet created little interlocking eddies where the lines between notated and improvised sounds blurred. A greater sense of freedom colored "(September 24th) Interval Dig," another lively number with Moran, Wierenga and Speed all enjoying more individual space to really push their instruments. The gently-paced "(September 22) Love Is Its Own Eternity" charted more tuneful territory, with vibes and saxophone in lyrical unison.

The knotty "(September 29th 1936) Me Warn You" departed from pounding drums and a looped segment of a Franklin D. Roosevelt speech, with Hollenbeck's rhythms falling into step with the vocal cadences. Start-stop rhythms, percussive bustle and flowing vibraphone and tenor lines all shared elbow-room on the set's longest composition. It provided an unusual yet arresting finale to the gig. The crowd cheered the four musicians back on stage for "Loterius Lakshmi," a curious slice of punchy, Morse Code jazz.

With dedicated promoters like IMC and venues such as the funky The Workmans Club supporting truly progressive bands like The Claudia Quintet, great music will always have a chance. Importantly, the vibrant creative music scene in Dublin has a following that makes it possible to stage such a left-field concert on a Monday night in the first place—and recession and those thirty shopping days until Christmas be damned.

Photo Credit
Courtesy of Dublin Jazz Photography / Devi Anna Chacon

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