Friday, August 20, 2010

Staff Picks: The Claudia Quintet - Royal Toast

All week, we'll be posting reviews of 10 new CDs just added to the AccuJazz Staff Picks channel. You can keep tabs on all the reviews as they come out here.

1) Claudia Quintet - Royal Toast (Cuneiform)

There is so much compositional, textural, and improvisational depth in Claudia Quintet's new album, Royal Toast, that I don't really know how to do it justice with words. But as your fearless AccuJazz program director, I'm going to do my darndest to try.

The Claudia Quintet is a longstanding group of top-flight New York improvisers led by drummer John Hollenbeck, also the group's sole composer. His singular compositional style reaches levels of sophistication that are truly unique in the world of jazz. Rounding out the Quintet is accordionist Ted Reichman, saxophonist and clarinetist Chris Speed, bassist Drew Gress, and vibraphonist Matt Moran. On Royal Toast, pianist Gary Versace joins the group to make it a sextet.

The group's music is often dubbed "post-jazz," or in Hollenbeck's words, "party music for smart people." It's what happens when a deft composer melds jazz, avant-garde improvisation, contemporary classical, "world" rhythms, prog rock, and a little bit of everything else into one glorious new style that sounds like nothing but itself.

Naturally, with such a broad range of influences, the music contained on Royal Toast spans many moods and sonic landscapes. The record starts off unassumingly, with "Crane Merit," a slow-burning ensemble piece that incorporates Reichian minimalist techniques so seamlessly you don't even realize the depth of what you're hearing until the 8th or 9th listen. Unless you're smarter than I am. Maybe then you get it quicker.

After a brief drum solo, one of many solo interludes by different band members throughout the album, the Quintet offers up "Keramag" as possibly its most ambitious statement. It's 8 minutes of ingenious motivic development complimented by inspired solos and richly layered ensemble parts. 9 times out of 10, the tune's heart-stopping climax has me going back and listening to the entire song again.

From the abstract, overdubbed "duets" of "Ted Versus Ted," "Matt on Matt," "Drew with Drew," and "Chris and Chris," to the rhythmic puzzles of "Armitage Shanks," the remainder of the album covers a lot of ground and is engaging to the very end. It's safe to predict that Royal Toast will have a significant impact on a generation of jazz composers, with musicians and fans alike hipping each other to Hollenbeck's multifaceted compositions for some time to come.

Listen to the Staff Picks Channel here

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