Eric Hofbauer Quintet

Prehistoric Jazz – Volume 1: The Rite of Spring
Creative Nation Music CNM 025

Eric Hofbauer Quintet

Prehistoric Jazz – Volume 2: Quartuor pour la fin du temps

Creative Nation Music CNM 026

By Ken Waxman

For most people “prehistoric jazz” means W.C. Handy or Buddy Bolden, yet Boston-based Eric Hofbauer puts a post-modern spin on the concept. Recognizing that advanced improvisation takes as much from the so-called classical tradition as jazz, he reworks two 20th century musical milestones into separate programs for trumpeter Jerry Sabatini, clarinetist Todd Brunel, cellist Junko Fujiwara and drummer Curt Newton plus his guitar. Each is handled differently.

The studied primitivism of Igor Stravinsky’s symphonic The Rite of Spring is miniaturized with each player standing in for different orchestral section. The result is rousing and romantic as the original score, but with openings for distinctive solos that rhythmically extend the composer’s Ur-modernism. Originally composed for a chamber ensemble, Olivier Messiaen’s Quartuor pour la fin du temps is implemented with as much joyous ecstasy as the composer intended, but stripped of its overt Christian mysticism.

In essence Hofbauer finds the link between “Quartuor” and the gospel music that fed into the birth of jazz. That means that, for example, “louange à l’éternité de jésus” is given a swing-Dixieland treatment that includes a harshly passionate intermezzo from Fujiwara’s cello that still cossets the theme. While Messiaen’s more overtly pastoral sequences remain intact, transforming solo passages into contrapuntal duets between string strums and bass clarinet glissandi in one instance or matching graceful trumpet lines to the metallic clank of guitar preparations in another, enhances the narrative. As well the supple rhythm output by Newton and picked up by the others adds festive swing to the proceedings. With one section titled “danse de la fueur …” contrasting dynamics played by the five wrap up into novel expressions as song-like as the original.

The Rite of Spring presents another strategy. With sequences such as the august of spring rife with motion, Hofbauer adapts the locomotive-style theme so that call-and-response strums, slaps, slurs and squeak add up to linear movement. Fujiwara often uses a walking bass line, and extended plunger trumpet tones and extended drum ruffs are frequently heard, but this doesn`t prevent the narrative from jumping from swing to smooth and back again. This melodiousness extends to the motif-like “mystic circle of young girls” where a clarinet/guitar duo adds a clean blues sensibility to the sequence.

By the final section with its evocation and ritual action leading to the sacrificial dance Stravinsky’s Slavic roughness gives way to buzzing reed vibrations plus trumpet obbligatos that add jazz sensibility to the score. Melding improvised music’s rugged tunefulness with Stravinsky’s mercurial vision, the climax is more buoyant yet just as rhythmically sophisticated as the original.

—For The Whole Note March 2015