Trafficking in a mixture of chamber music, intricate post-rock and jazz, the Claudia Quintet has carved out a distinctive niche under the leadership of Grammy-nominated drummer/composer John Hollenbeck (even if it's obviously a challenge to define where exactly that niche lies).
Regardless, this album marks a return to all-instrumental composition for the quintet, which in 2011 featured vocalists Kurt Elling and Theo Bleckmann on "What Is the Beautiful?" which was inspired by the poetry of Kenneth Patchen. Still, in the best music there's a sense that someone is talking to you, and here the subject is Hollenbeck's favorite month in "September," a time when the composer typically finds creative solitude.
Though the 10 pieces are the result of Hollenbeck (for the first time) communicating them to the band without writing them down, each bears the group's tightly composed signature. "September 18: Lemons" begins as a cyclical, minimalist-leaning dialogue between Matt Moran's vibraphone and accordionist Red Wierenga (yes, there's an accordion here -- but set your polka prejudices aside) that gracefully fades into an atmospheric midsection before gathering into a menacing churn that becomes a jumping-off point for saxophonist Chris Speed.
Inspired in part by Wayne Shorter, "September 9: Wayne Phases" flirts with a bluesy swing before vanishing into a duet between Speed and a driving patter of drums from Hollenbeck, and "September 12: Coping Song" ventures into the shadow of 9/11 with a searching melody from Speed and a thick bass line from Drew Gress.
The spoken word returns with "September 9: 1936, 'Me Warn You'," which is crafted from a conversation between the band an a snippet of speech by President Franklin D. Roosevelt about social programs. The repetition tests one's patience. But as Hollenbeck's drums emphatically echo Roosevelt's words, the looped sample drops away, ceding to a fresh horn melody over a gentle rhythm -- a reminder that the conversation goes on.
The Claudia Quintet
(Cuneiform)The Claudia Quintet performs at REDCAT on Friday with the trio of Jim Black, Tim Lefebvre and Chris Speed as part of the Angel City Jazz Festival. Information at www.angelcityjazz.com.