Celebrations come and go, some lasting long beyond history, into legend. While it has been in the decade of the 2000s that percussionist/composer John Hollenbeck's music was duly recognized, it seems exponentially like many more continue to be aware of his gifts and talents. The rise of the drummer as leader and music maker coincides with this precept, paralleling contemporary figures like Steve Reich or Lou Harrison, and jazz drummers Max Roach and Roy Brooks as progenitors of percussion as lead instrument, not merely as rhythmic anchor. This compilation of works was commissioned by the Weill Music Institute at Carnegie Hall, the Whitney Museum, the Jerome Foundation, and Bang on a Can collective, featuring Hollenbeck not only as a composer, but a performer in various trios, his Claudia Quintet, and as artist-in-residence with large ensembles. Hollenbeck's creations range from ethnic and 21st century contemporary music to creative improvised and textural or minimalist styles. Seven duos or trios, collectively titled "Gray Cottage Study" feature violinist Todd Reynolds, conceived by Hollenbeck as a case study in various techniques employed by the four string instruments. Vibraphonist Matt Moran is on six of the seven etudes, including the self-descriptive "Lost in Fog," the choppy "Getting Chilly," the plucked, improvised "My Deer" with Hollenbeck, the rockish, minimal "Dustish," and the sine-wave-to-tip-toe-type-sounding "Tax Penalty Payment Approaching" with two vibes including the composer. The Claudia Quintet with Moran, bassist Drew Gress, Ted Reichman, Chris Cheek, and special guest guitarist Mark Stewart offer up "Rainbow Jimmies" in an involved and developed piece with pulsating 5/4 organ from Reichman, distended and broken-down phrases in and out of phase à la Reich, Chris Speed's tangy clarinet, then probing mysticism. "Sinanari" also has Claudia and Reichman's accordion again via minimalist fashion marinated in a Turkish pop foundation, rocked out just a bit. Extravagant, extended pieces by the Youngstown Percussion Collective & Saxophone Quartet and the Ethos Percussion Group comprise the two-part "Ziggurat," perhaps a play on words of the cigarette paper. More architectural minimalism leads to multiple popping percussion, gamelan-type sacred bells, and ring tones. Certainly there's a lot of music here to ponder that is quite different from other recordings of Hollenbeck's larger and small ensembles. An open mind is effective and encouraged in order to hear the variations away from abstract jazz, musique concrète, or notated music in a conventional sense. It's intriguing on many levels, and deserves repeat listenings to understand the full depth and breadth of one of the most fertile and imaginative minds in rhythmic, non-traditional contemporary music.
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AllMusic Review by Michael G. Nastos