The Claudia Quintet
Tuesday, October 8th, 8 p.m.| Arcata Playhouse
"Precisely calibrated but willfully spontaneous chamber-jazz."
–Nate Chinen, New York Times
"A compelling example of what 21st century jazz can sound like: both maddeningly complex and irresistibly hard-grooving, performed by dexterous improvisers who inject something new into every take."
–The Village Voice's "Sound of the City"
Sometimes they’re a swinging big band, other times hipsters in a cool lounge act. They can sound like almost anything: an Ellington combo, a Scandinavian tone poem, the soundtrack to a film noir, even an indie band rocking en clavé. In the end, though, they sound like no one in the world but the Claudia Quintet. “Which is,” as the LA Times says, “exactly what makes them worth seeking out.”
That distinctive soundprint is built from a variety of elements, including unusual instrumentation (for a jazz band, anyway: clarinet or sax, plus vibes, accordion, bass and drums), wry humor, and shape-shifting patterns of colors, textures, and beats. The music “comes from a jazz foundation,” remarks NPR’s Patrick Jarenwattananon, “and it's played by musicians fluent in jazz. But there’s a lot of other stuff mixed in there, too. There are cries of free improvisation and interlocking layers of [Reichian] minimalism, and there’s the complexity and clean precision of math-/post-/prog-rock.”
John Hollenbeck, the group’s founder and leader, has garnered three Grammy nominations and plenty of critical acclaim as a drummer, bandleader, and composer. He writes adventurous music, with a long list of commissions to his credit. It’s sometimes labeled “post-jazz” for lack of a better term—but Hollenbeck doesn’t worry much about labels. The Claudia Quintet is the longest-running of his many projects, which include his “Large Ensemble” and the Refuge Trio (with vocalist Theo Bleckmann and keyboardist Gary Versace)—and it’s also the dearest to his heart. It’s “my backbone,” he told DownBeat in 2007. “If all the other stuff went away, I’d be happy enough if Claudia stays.”
The other players—Chris Speed on reeds, Red Wierenga on accordion, Matt Moran on vibes, and Chris Tordini filling in for Drew Gress on bass (no one in the band is named Claudia)—are consummate virtuosos, some with their own stars on the jazz sidewalk of fame. And yet the ensemble interplay is wholly original, sometimes uncanny, and distinguished by the group’s intense concentration on Hollenbeck’s often-gorgeous eclecticism, which dares to be both experimental and lyrical. (“The sonic equivalent to a hand-woven tapestry,” says DownBeat.) Claudia alumnus Ted Reichmann explains that Hollenbeck is “always looking for ways to harness our energy while seeking structural variety. He’s intent on not coming up with the same piece. His esthetic struggle as a composer who’s come up through jazz is to write compositions that aren’t just heads to blow on.” He’s “more interested in looking at a symphonic way of improvising,” adds Gress. “He’s got an Ellingtonian approach where he has control over the material but he also wants you to bring your voice to it.”
The band’s brand-new release, September, features the characteristically intricate, highly-wrought, rhythmically intense music we’ve come to expect from the CQ, with tunes named for personally significant days in a month that Hollenbeck routinely devotes to composition. (They include the moving “September 12th: Coping Song,” which harks back to the emotional turbulence of 2001.) What’s different this time around is that things aren’t written down: astonishingly, Hollenbeck taught these labyrinthine pieces to the band largely by ear. “Precisely calibrated but willfully spontaneous chamber jazz,” the New York Times’ Nate Chinen calls it. Come hear that regulated spontaneity for yourself.
John Hollenbeck will also present an open public workshop at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, October 9 in HSU's Studio Theater (Theatre Arts Building Room 115, to the left and down the hall from the Van Duzer lobby). People of all levels of experience are welcome to attend, and admission is FREE.
Words & Pixels:
Wednesday morning's free public workshop with John Hollenbeck is made possible through the generosity of HSU's Office of the President, the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, and the Department of Music.