John Hollenbeck

April 12, 2007

Joys & Desires
Intuition INT 33862

Leader of the chamber-jazz Claudia Quintet and acclaimed as a sensitive accompanist for bands ranging from Bob Brookmeyer’s melodic New Jazz Orchestra to avant guitarist Scott Fields’ quartet, Joys & Desires showcases John Hollenbeck’s steadily maturing talents as a composer and arranger.

Adding himself and long-time associate vocalist Theo Bleckmann to Jazz Big Band Graz (JBBG), Hollenbeck has constructed both the three-part title suite and other compositions to showcase the talents of the 18-piece Austrian group directed by brass man Horst-Michael Schaffer and reedist Heinrich von Kalnein. Although all four plus cellist Henning Sieverts and saxophonist Klaus Gesing get ample solo space, Hollenbeck’s particular skill emphasizes pooled orchestral colors as much as individual contributions.

Most conspicuous are the sometimes electronically altered counter-tenor tones of Bleckmann, whose half-sung/half recitation of poetry by William Blake and Wallace Stevens gives voice to the composer’s innate romanticism. In “The Garden of Love” for instance, the climax of the title suite, Blake’s verse antiphonally alternates with Gesing’s soprano saxophone obbligato. Meanwhile Gil Evans-influenced collective horn lines gradually accelerate to a cushioning crescendo behind.

Elsewhere taking advantage such contemporary flourishes as the triggered distortion from Uli Rennert’s synthesizer, Hollenbeck’s blend of the mainstream and the modern is effectively showcased on “Abstinence”, the nearly 11½-minute longest track. With the initial theme advanced by strummed cello lines and echoes filtered through Schaffer electronically altered trumpet and echoed by reed riffs, the drummer’s wooden rim shots and ratamacues initiate a counter melody in the standard big band tradition. With the warbling vocalist nearly chirping through electronics, Hollenbeck’s chime and tam-tam strokes usher in vamping horns which fill the air with dense patterns up to a shuddering climax with dissipates in pulsating flutters.

Joys & Desires is an atypical mixture of the cerebral and the accessible.

–Ken Waxman

–for CODA Issue 332