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The Claudia Quintet: What Is the Beautiful?

Mark Corroto By

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American poet Kenneth Patchen (1911-1972) has been a favorite of musicians for over half a century, from composer John Cage to saxophonist Peter Brötzmann and bassist William Parker. This everyman writer, considered to be the "father of the Beats," is their direct link to Walt Whitman and William Blake.

Before Jack Kerouac performed his poems with a jazz band, Patchen was reciting poetry backed by Allyn Ferguson and Charles Mingus. His writings are a smattering of love poems to his wife Miriam and anti-war, anti-corporate rants that would fit nicely with today's Occupy Wall Street movement.

To celebrate Patchen's 100th birthday, The University of Rochester commissioned drummer/composer John Hollenbeck to interpret a selection the poet's writings with The Claudia Quintet. For its sixth release, Hollennbeck's quintet is augmented with pianist Matt Mitchell and two vocalists, Kurt Elling and Theo Bleckmann.

As with Royal Toast (Cuneiform, 2010), the Quintet + 1 settles into its now familiar mix of chamber jazz-meets-pop-and-minimalism, a style that surely is in need of a label. Hollenbeck writes music suggestive of both Raymond Scott and Steve Reich; let's call it, "Partly Claudia Music."

When he turns his attention to Patchen, Hollenbeck's focus is directed to the theatrical and the ethereal. Elling fills the differing thespian roles well, applying a Brooklyn accent to "The Job," while the music stutters and lurches forward. He uses his announcer's voice on "Showtime/23rd Street Runs into Heaven," with bassist Drew Gress and vibraphonist Matt Moran impersonating his words, and finally, he does a creepy William Burroughs imitation to "Opening The Window."

From everyman, Hollenbeck turns to the heavens, utilizing Bleckmann's operatic voice to deliver the faithful praises of "The Snow is Deep On the Ground," his graceful spoken tone on "Beautiful You Are," and a whispered reading of the "Limpidity Of Silences," accompanied only by Mitchell's resonating piano.

Hollenbeck's Claudia Quintet seems predisposed to the grace and fluidity of Patchen's poetry. Certainly, if the great man were alive today he would want to perform with this band.

Track Listing: Showtime/23rd Street Runs into Heaven; The Snow is Deep On the Ground; Mates For Life; Job; Do Me That Favor; Flock; What Is the Beautiful?; Beautiful You Are; Peace Of Green; The Bloodhounds; Limpidity Of Silences; Opening the Window.

Personnel: John Hollenbeck: drums, percussion, keyboard; Ted Reichman: accordion; Chris Speed: clarinet, tenor saxophone; Matt Moran: vibraphone; Drew Gress: acoustic bass; Matt Mitchell: piano; Kurt Elling: voice (1, 4, 7, 10, 12); Theo Bleckmann: voice (2, 5, 8, 11).

Title: What Is the Beautiful? | Year Released: 2011 | Record Label: Cuneiform Records


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