Claudia Quintet

Super Petite
Cuneiform Records Rune 427

By Ken Waxman

Acclaimed long before he joined the faculty of McGill’s Schulich School of Music last year, with Super Petite American composer-percussionist John Hollenbeck indicates one of many reasons why a Donald Trump-obsessed United States’ loss is our gain. Consisting of 10 tracks which are meticulously crafted as if shaped by a master diamond cutter, each manages to convey a flowing simplicity, but includes enough worldly sonic jolts to stave off placidity.

Tunes such as “JFK Beagle” and “Newark Beagle” for instance use accordionist Red Wierenga’s tremolo shimmers to replicate a canine’s exuberance, while their serious airport-sniffing work is characterized by a stringent tone conveyed by tenor saxophonist Chris Speed. Alternately if Drew Gress’s walking double bass grounds the movement of those on the A-List, then squeeze-box surges lustily underlie the swing in the step of the participants. Although the titles are evocative, tracks aren’t really programmatic but are there to balance the players’ interpretative skills. For instance Speed’s clarinet line that stretches outwards like a fire hose defines the near-static mood piece that is Mangold as effectively as melded vibes-accordion ripples atop percussion pops.

Although uncompromised animation buoys most of the tracks, the most remarkable are those which buttress contemporary jazz smarts. “Peterborough” – named for the city in New Hampshire not Ontario – is reminiscent of a Benny Goodman-Lionel Hampton duet via Speed’s clarinet tone and Matt Moran’s vibes spangling. But once the stop-time theme kicks in, introduced by Gress’s duple rhythms and the reedist’s turn to aviary sibilance, 21st Century musical orientation is evident. “Philly” is a deconstructed bebop line that honors Philly Joe Jones, one of Hollenbeck’s drum influences from that city. Yet while the vibe rattle and percussion splatters relate to more formal sounds, Speed’s gutty saxophone flutters and Wierenga’s organ-like tremolos reflect Philly’s soul-jazz heritage.

With none of these gently swinging tracks lengthier than six minutes and most in the three-to-four minute range, not one wears out its welcome. If he keeps turning out discs like Super Petite Hollenbeck won’t wear out his welcome on either side the border either.

-For The Whole Note November 2016