The Claudia Quintet – Royal Toast

The latest record from The Claudia Quintet — under the leadership of drummer and composer John Hollenbeck — continues to push the limits of what small ensembles are capable of.

The Claudia Quintet
Royal Toast
(Cuneiform Records, May 2010)

When The Claudia Quintet played at Rumor’s Boutique in Richmond in October of 2007, I had a great night. I recall grinning from ear to ear throughout much of the music. Not a “That was really funny” grin, or even an “I’m really uncomfortable so I’ll just smile” grin, but that “I can’t believe I’m here experiencing this music right now” grin. There was something about that music that I had never heard before, and being there while it happened made it even more amazing.

Listening to their CD For after that live performance wasn’t nearly as fulfilling. Granted, there’s something about experiencing music live (especially in such a small space like a clothing boutique on Harrison St.) that allows your body to be totally consumed by the vibrations in the air. But even so, my feelings after that live show, the elation, starts to come back when listening to Royal Toast.

The meditative opening track “Crane Merit” — that stews softly instead of boiling rapidly like the band is accustomed to doing — makes it clear that bandleader, composer, and drummer John Hollenbeck was going for something different this time.

After a brief drum intro by Hollenbeck, who bends the pitches of his toms motifically like Han Bennink might do, a more familiar sound kicks in. “Keramag” is The Claudia Quintet you know and love, with its unique color of accordion, vibraphone, and clarinet playing Hollenbeck harmonies. There’s a bit of Zappa logic in here, like it belongs on One Size Fits All.

Sitting in for bassist Drew Gress at the Richmond show a few years back was Gary Versace with his left hand on organ. Here, Versace joins the band in a featured capacity with both hands on the piano, lending a new timbre and solo voice to the palette.

Listen to “Keramag”:

[audio:|titles=Keramag|artists=The Claudia Quintet]

The pieces “Ted Versus Ted,” “Drew With Drew,” “Matt on Matt,” and “Chris and Chris” are all sub-one-minute tracks of playing juxtaposed with another sub-one-minute track of their playing. It was more or less an experiment by Hollenbeck to have them play two takes with the intention of combining them, but unbeknownst to the players. Chris Speed’s works exceedingly well, but each of them is an interesting look into how these men’s minds work.

“Armitage Shanks” furthers the Zappa reference: there’s a certain similarity to the Jazz From Hell vibe of computer music precision. But often layered on top of the brilliantly tight arrangements floats (or shreds) an improviser, something a computer can never recreate. And you can forget about a computer simulation, mechanical re-creation, or any other non-human performance of a ballad as fragile and complex as “‘Ideal Standard'” or a tune with such dynamic variety and balance as the propulsive “American Standard.”

Hollenbeck continues to cultivate his band’s sound with Royal Toast. Even though a sound as identifiable and unique as The Claudia Quintet’s can’t help but sound quite similar to many ears from album to album, Hollenbeck and his bandmates still manage each time to push the limits of what small ensembles are capable of.

Buy the album

Track list: Crane Merit; Keramag Prelude; Keramag; Paterna Terra; Ted Versus Ted; Armitage Shanks; Drew With Drew; Sphinx; Matt On Matt; Zurn; Chris And Chris; Royal Toast; “Ideal” Intro; “Ideal Standard”; American Standard; For Frederick Franck.

Personnel: John Hollenbeck, drums, percussion; Ted Reichman, accordion; Chris Speed, clarinet, tenor saxophone; Matt Moran, vibraphone; Drew Gress, acoustic bass; Gary Versace, piano, accordion on “For Frederick Franck.”

  • error

    Report an error

Dean Christesen

There are 4 reader comments. Read them.