Claudia Quintet in Palos Park Wednesday | Bleader

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Claudia Quintet in Palos Park Wednesday

Posted By on 09.28.10 at 06:07 PM

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Claudia Quintet With Gary Versace
  • Claudia Quintet With Gary Versace
Over the past decade and a half, percussionist and composer John Hollenbeck has used the Claudia Quintet, one of his several working groups, to explore the collision of jazz improvisation, minimalist composition, and progressive rock. This fine-tuned, artful band staked out its territory when the boundaries between those genres were much starker, and now that such lines have all but dissolved, the Claudia Quintet looks positively prescient—though no other group sounds quite like it, many have encroached upon similar territory since the late 90s.

The Claudia Quintet's fifth and most recent album, Royal Toast (Cuneiform), was recorded with guest pianist and accordionist Gary Versace, a regular collaborator with Hollenbeck in the Refuge Trio; he bolsters both the group's multilayered rhythmic architecture and its harmonic density. By now the band can navigate its variegated musical spaces with such fluidity and ease that it almost sounds unremarkable—but anybody who gives Royal Toast more than a superficial listen will hear that there's still plenty of enriching music going on. Hollenbeck has an excellent lineup at his disposal—reedist Chris Speed, bassist Drew Gress, vibist Matt Moran, and accordionist Ted Reichman—and wisely draws upon their improvisational skills, but the solos arrive in concise little bundles, carefully placed within his cyclical, post-Steve Reich compositions so that it's difficult to tell where the written material ends.

Hollenbeck also uses a kind of sleight of hand to further blur the line between composition and improvisation. For the four improvised interludes on the album, he had each of the other members record two versions of a solo, without telling them why; then he overlapped both versions, creating a shockingly compatible collage. As each interlude ends, the spotlighted instrument takes a lead role in the composition that follows, and it's fun to listen for elements of the interlude to turn up.

The Claudia Quintet doesn't make it to these parts very often, but it's performing Wednesday evening at Moraine Valley Community College in Palos Park—not exactly where you'd expect to catch a group like this. I didn't even know this show was happening till I got an e-mail about it from Hollenbeck yesterday. Accompanying the group on this brief midwestern tour is the excellent pianist Matt Mitchell, who's been busy with reedist Tim Berne of late; he'll play Versace's parts.

Below you can listen to "Sphinx," a part-kaleidoscopic, part-raucous track from Royal Toast:

photo: Steven Gunther

Today's playlist:

Fredrik Nordström, Mayday! (Found You)
Sierra Maestra, Sonando Ya (World Village)
Mary J. Blige, Stronger With Each Tear (Geffen)
Empirical, Out 'n' In (Naim)
Trondheim Jazz Orchestra & Erlend Skomsvoll, What If? A Counterfactual Fairytale (MNJ)

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