The Claudia Quintet / Gary Versace

Royal Toast

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Throughout the decade of the 2000s, the Claudia Quintet recorded, toured, and became one of the top five progressive jazz units in the U.S. and the world. For 2010 they continue with Royal Toast, implying elegance and a golden brown, perfectly prepared, even buttery music. Percussionist/composer/bandleader John Hollenbeck has retained saxophonist and clarinetist Chris Speed, the piquant subtle vibraphonist Matt Moran, accordion specialist Ted Reichman, and the great bassist Drew Gress, adding special guest Gary Versace, not on organ but acoustic piano. The resulting music is surprising low-key, less complex and intricate, but still bold, groundbreaking, and spread across numerous colorful sonic palettes. Many of these performances have solo preludes from individual bandmembers, with Hollenbeck's drums preceding the more involved funk of "Keramag," the pithy bass of Gress leading into the driven and heavy fast march "Sphinx," and Speed's counterpoint overdubbed saxes as an intro for the sideways title track, recalling recent efforts of David Binney. The stand-alone "Crane Merit" lives up to its title in the lugubrious but dignified persona of the near extinct bird, while "Paterna Terra" is free to soulful and the tandem "Ideal/American Standard" is mysterious to insistent. Versace's role is that of shading or propping up these melodies, and one should listen closely to his contributions here. It's another extraordinary musical experience from the Claudia Quintet, who deserve all the high marks they receive as an innovative, thought-provoking, singularly unique contemporary ensemble.

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