Claudia Quintet / John Hollenbeck

I, Claudia

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This second release from the Claudia Quintet (and their first on the Cuneiform label) not only offers Claudia's great blend of instrumental textures from tenor sax/clarinet, vibraphone, accordion, acoustic bass, drums, and percussion, but also provides a satisfying stroll among multiple musical genres. Drummer John Hollenbeck is the group's composer, and his clever pieces move effortlessly from funky chamber jazz to minimalism (both rhythmic and ambient), with some African elements and "new music" vocabulary thrown in for good measure. A good example of Hollenbeck's eclecticism (one of many) would be the piece "...Can You Get Through This Life With a Good Heart?," which was inspired by a quote from Joni Mitchell in a PBS documentary. It opens, in Hollenbeck's words, with "the harmonic clouds and space of Morton Feldman," which eventually give way to a pensive folk melody stated by accordion and vibes. The Claudia Quintet has been compared favorably with Tortoise, and it's an apt analogy as far as it goes, but the Quintet brings a different mix to the table, with a stronger jazz presence, more musical intellect, and a bit less of the slacker/stoner vibe embraced by the post-rock crowd. Jazz credentials aside, Claudia's supple rhythmic patterns (sometimes with a dash of whimsy) form a link with the witty, "invented ethnic" music of the Penguin Cafe Orchestra, although their minimalist tendencies also draw upon Feldman or early Steve Reich. Matt Moran's percussive mallet work evokes the sound of classic Reich pieces such as Music for 18 Musicians, but Moran can also swing mightily, especially when he, Hollenbeck, and bassist Drew Gress grab onto a groove. On some pieces (or portions thereof), Chris Speed's microtonal and/or multiphonic forays on clarinet and tenor also bring to mind various Jimmy Guiffre experimental trios and quartets. Likewise, accordionist Ted Reichman wanders "outside" at times, pulling atonal bursts from his instrument, and pitch-blending with Speed's clarinet. But Hollenbeck's compositions are so deft and fluid that any movements toward the fringes are integrated into a broader musical palette that beguiles and seduces rather than throwing a thorny musical challenge at the listener. As a consequence, the Claudia Quintet manages to produce music that is mellow, easy on the ears, but also creative and intellectually stimulating.

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