Saturday, November 28, 2009


So John Hollenbeck turned up on my radar just recently, when the New Sounds podcast featured his piece The Cloud. I had mixed feelings! But you people know I have Jazz Issues, which I am still trying to rationalize and articulate. For now they remain the sort of Issues that would be better rehearsed on a therapist's couch than on a blog, but insofar as I can gripe intelligently at all about things like jazz fusion and jazz for large ensemble, I guess something strikes me as uncanny about the meticulous performance style—it seems too cautious, somehow. What I love about the jazz I love is how well hidden the precision often is. (CLASSICAL COMPOSERS AND PERFORMERS, YOU COULD LEARN SO MUCH FROM THIS.) But on the other hand, that's clearly not what Hollenbeck's trying to achieve with this stuff, so I guess it is not him, it's me. See also Argue, Darcy James.

But the point is that, like Argue, John Hollenbeck clearly deserves to be on yall's new-music radar as well. Of the two discs his publicist sent me, the one that excites me most isn't the John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble, whose latest release (Eternal Interlude) is excerpted in the above podcast, but last year's Rainbow Jimmies, which consists mostly of chamber works Hollenbeck has written for his own Claudia Quintet and for other small groups even further away from any kind of conventional jazz configuration.

His writing for violinist Todd Reynolds is brilliant, maybe because he's thinking about the violin as a percussion instrument, employing both hands to pluck the strings

and even, later on, detuning the G string like it was a kettledrum. (That's Hollenbeck on drumset, on that track.)

Here's my favorite piece off the album, Ziggurat (Interior); it's the companion to the slightly silly Ziggurat (Exterior), a big jagged pyramid of Latin-style percussion; this one's performed by the Ethos Percussion Quartet:

See, that's just good writing!

Anyway, on MONDAY, at the Le Poisson Rouge, John Hollenbeck is doing a release party for the Large Ensemble record, but it's also going to be him and Theo Bleckmann and their band covering Meredith Monk (see Hollenbeck and Bleckmann jamming here), and Todd Reynolds is gonna be there too, to play the stuff from Rainbow Jimmies. So it's kind of a big deal! 8 pm, $15, info here.

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