Drummer/composer John Hollenbeck is in control despite the pandemic

Limited in activities because of Covid-19’s social distancing, drummer/composer John Hollenbeck is still involved in many musical projects. As he tells Night After Night’s Steve Smith, besides practising more, he’s preparing for remote teaching in his position at Montréal’s McGill University, where he has worked since 2015, and has just completed a vocal-oriented CD with singers Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckmann, a big band and keyboardist Gary Versace. While Hollenbeck usually composes original music for projects such as those with vocalist/performer Meredith Monk, large and small ensembles and his own bands, especially the Claudia Quintet, he says arranging pop and rock songs for the new CD wasn’t that dissimilar since “I take something that I call a cell, and manipulate it in so many ways, so it sounds different … the difference [here] is that the cell does not come from me.” The session is on his own brand-new Flexatonic label which he organized as a non-profit to reissue his earlier recordings on other imprints and to release albums when he wants to. The one major pandemic drawback, he admits, is that the Claudia Quintet can’t tour since with members like saxophonist/clarinettist Chris Speed in Los Angeles and bassist Drew Gress in upstate New York, they can’t physically connect.