drummer, percussionist, educator
It’s traditional, when paying
compliment to drummers, to draw comparisons with the octopus, implying agility
beyond the means of a paltry pair of human hands. But when considering John Hollenbeck, the multi-limbed
creature that seems most appropriate to invoke is the mythical hydra; for while Hollenbeck is certainly no stranger
to rhythmic intricacy, it’s ideas that seem to spring
forth like so many heads, two more arising as one falls away.
Hollenbeck is a composer of
music uncategorizable beyond the fact of being always identifiably his. A
conceptualist able to translate the traditions of jazz and new music into a
fresh, eclectic, forward-looking
language of his own invention, intellectually rewarding yet ever accessibly vibrant. A drummer and percussionist possessed of a playful
versatility and a virtuosic wit. Most
of all, a musical thinker – whether putting pen to paper or conjuring
spontaneous sound – allergic to repetition, forever seeking to surprise
himself and his audiences.
The prolific and unpredictable
nature of Hollenbeck’s output has been evident since he first emerged as a
leader in late 2001, releasing four completely different albums within a matter of months.
Three of them (Quartet Lucy, the duo CD Static Still, and
images, featuring several different configurations) introduced the
partnership of Hollenbeck and iconoclastic vocalist Theo Bleckmann, who
continue to collaborate in a variety of offbeat settings. Along with keyboardist Gary Versace, they form the
Refuge Trio, as boundary-free a small group as one is likely to find.
The last of that initial burst of creativity was the
self-titled debut of the Claudia Quintet, Hollenbeck’s longest-running ensemble.
Over the course of its eight CDs, Claudia has cemented its reputation as one of
the most innovative and adaptable units in modern jazz, so deftly attuned to one another that Hollenbeck’s most dizzying
compositional leaps are taken with an air of playfulness
and skewed humor. Claudia’s latest release, Super Petite, is a potent
package that condenses virtuoso playing and a wealth of ideas into ten
Claudia has received grants
from the Chamber Music America New Jazz Works:
Commissioning and Ensemble Development program to compose a suite which
was recorded for 2009’s Royal Toast, and from Arts
International and the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation to travel to Brazil and Nepal for performances. The quintet was
commissioned by the University of Rochester to set the work of Kenneth
Patchen as part of their 100th birthday celebration of the
ground-breaking poet, which can be heard on the 2011 release What
Is the Beautiful?, featuring vocals by Theo Bleckmann and Kurt
Elling. The Claudia Quintet can also be heard performing the theme music to Poetry
Off the Shelf, a weekly audio program on PoetryFoundation.org.
Hollenbeck has been acclaimed
for his unique twist on big band music - most notably through the work of the John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble,
which trades the gale force blowing of most
such bands for a multi-hued
palette of tonal colors and rich, evocative atmospheres. The JHLE received
Grammy nominations for both of its releases: A Blessing in 2006 and eternal
interlude in 2009.
John was nominated again in 2014 for his
arrangement of Jimmy Webb’s “The Moon’s a Harsh Mistress” from the album Songs
I Like a Lot, commissioned and recorded by the Frankfurt Radio Big
Band, featuring vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckmann, and pianist Gary
Versace. That album and its companion piece, 2015’s Songs
We Like a Lot, puckishly reimagine pop songs by the likes of Cyndi Lauper, Daft Punk,Queen and Burt Bacharach with big
band arrangements, transforming
familiar songs with surprising insight and audacious wit.