The Claudia Quintet

John Hollenbeck’s percussionist John Hollenbeck created the Claudia Quintet. It has successfully crossed the boundaries between electronica, free jazz, contemporary composition, progressive music, and electronica. The group’s fourth album, appropriately titled Semi-Formal, is a slight departure form its previous record. Semi-Formal (Cuneiform 2005) used short interludes that acted as a bridge between tunes, much like a piece of music. This album is less conceptually organized and features a variety of tributes. Hollenbeck dedicates each tune to an individual inspiration. Hollenbeck is joined on the album by regular Claudia members Chris Speed (clarinetist/tenor-saxophonist), Ted Reichman (accordionist), Matt Moran (vibraphonist) and Drew Gress (bassist). The acoustic quintet mixes jovial melodies with captivating rhythms with bittersweet lyrics and somber reflection. Claudia’s first album, “For You”, uses prepared electronic tape and sporadic spoken words to create a minimalist atmosphere poem that is different from their previous works. It is conceptually isolated and contrasts with the album’s inspiring hybrid of complex rhythms, intricate harmonic counterpoint. The opener, “I’m so Fickin’ cool”, displays such elaborate emotion. The tune is a constant upbeat and seamlessly transitions from post-rock funk to Klezmer-inspired celebration. Gress’ subterranean bottom line is accented with Moran’s vibraphone accents. Hollenbeck, whose accelerating tempo whips Speed u0026 Reichman into a polyphonic frenzy involving a caterwauling clarinet u0026 pneumatic accordion, is also accented by Moran’s scintillating vibraphone accents. “Be happy” is a dense mosaic that combines symmetrical polyrhythmic drive with interlocking harmonic counterpoint. The tune is cerebral but not stuffy and builds into a powerful anthem that’s delivered with the zeal of its title. The pulsing, free-jazzing “Rug Boy”, balanced by the bluesy, languorous “This Too Shall Pass” as well as the minimalist, chamber excursion “August 5, 2006”. Hollenbeck blends The Carpenters’ bittersweet song “Rainy Days u0026 Mondays” with Stan Kenton’s lively arrangement of “The Peanut Vendor”, with mercurial irreverence. The quintet’s final song, “Three Odes” flows gracefully through a series a subdued moods. For, another chapter in the remarkable story of the Claudia Quintet, is a fertile mix of infectious grooves and rich harmonies. It also features adventurous improvisations and cinematic ambience.

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