The Claudia Quintet

2005, Cuneiform Records


Chris Speed
clarinet, tenor saxophone, piano, Casio SK-1
Matt Moran
vibraphone, keyboards, baritone horn
Ted Reichman
accordion, acoustic/electric guitar, keyboards
Drew Gress
acoustic bass, pedal steel guitar, electric guitar
John Hollenbeck
drums, piano, keyboards, fan, composition

It was with a certain amount of trepidation that I decided to make a ‘listener’s record’ – a record that might not make perfect sense when individual tracks are listened to randomly on one’s ipod shuffle or on a writer’s deadline after skimming through the latest Roy Haynes release and before the latest Bill Charlap; a record that was best listened to in one or two sittings. In the end, despite cultural pressure to create an instant “hit”, I had to listen to my inner voice and go for this – whatever you want to call it – (is it a concept album?)…an album that I hope will cater at the very least to the deep, patient listener.

The basic notion was to create a 2-part (i.e. Side A/Side B) continuous excursion. The ‘Claudia’ sound is like a warm, thick pudding to me. I thought it would be great to alternate this sound/taste with some palette cleansers – pieces where we are playing instruments not associated with the ‘Claudia’ sound. Luckily the guys were completely into this idea and talented enough to have some interesting colors under their respective belts.

After a short foreshadowing teaser of “minor nelson” (which will eventually bring the listener full circle as the closing track), the recording opens up with “Major Nelson”. Before the last presidential elections, when we were still very about excited about democracy, we let the audience vote on 4 possible titles to this tune. They were: “surffrus”, “Henry Winkler”, “Brian Wilson” and “Major Nelson”. The west coast listeners were attracted to “Brian Wilson” but when we finally got back to the east coast and all of the chads were counted, our loyal hometown audience made it obvious that “Major Nelson” was the best choice. Luckily, no Republicans were around to make things go their way (or were they?).

Immediately following this fervent opener you will hear an example of a tune that needed to be written in order to maintain order within the Claudia rehearsals: the tune is called “drewslate”. Drew lives about a 1 to 2 hour drive outside of the city, so the chances that he will be late for a rehearsal are high, very high. With this in mind, (I was a boy scout for about 4 months, so all I remember is “be prepared”…oh, and never find yourself alone with the scoutmaster – true story), I created a piece with a ‘sans Drew’ intro that would keep the rest of the guys practicing/rehearsing while Drew made his way through the daily special of traffic snafus.

The first “bridge” piece, “Kord”, enunciates silence alternately with a warm klangfarben chord that smoothly links up with both the last chord of “drewslate” and the first note of “They point…”.

As time passes on, pieces like this are increasing alluring to my ears. “They point…glance…whisper…then snicker…” uses principles often employed in electronic music – the basic concept is that the instrumentalists do not interact with each other, but rather act less human and more like a machine. The title of the piece refers to an experience I had when I was walking down the street and noticed kids on a school bus driving past me looking, pointing and laughing at me. While this initially bummed me out, I found solace in the remembrance of my own school days, when I was probably guilty of the same on some innocent bystander…

bindi binder” slowly (but also quickly) bridges from “point” to “Susan” using a zen-like allotment of pitches.

Susan” is dedicated to two different Susans who have some similar characteristics. I met both at the Blue Mountain Center over the course of two separate artists’ retreats. I originally wrote this for the 2nd Susan as a birthday present. Taking a cue from both Susans, I tried to create a piece that imbued itself with “sensitive emotion”. I’m honored to let you know that Chris uses the recurring figure in this piece as his cellphone ringtone.

end of “side 1”

“side 2”

Two Teachers” was originally written for Bob Brookmeyer’s Quartet East and dedicated to him and the great tabla guru, Pandit Sharda Sahai. The last section (dedicated to Sharda) is based on a traditional Tintal (16 beat) melody commonly used for tabla solos. The preceding sections are all based on this melody combined with a slow montuno.

Two Teachers” runs into “Growth”, a static, yet cinematic narrative, which sets up the bass feature, “Limp Mint”.

Without getting too geeky, the same 12/8 rhythm is used throughout “Limp Mint” but with varying and different subdivisions, which create the allusion of sudden shifts in tempi. The bass melody rides these groove waves while the others hold on for the ride. Recognizing that the title is a bit strange, I have made many attempts to change it, but it keeps coming back. Green, which I often think about because it’s my favorite color, makes me think of mint. And to me, mint is the epitome of freshness and vitality: the wave-like figures in “Limp Mint” evoke in my mind (and ears) references to evolution, the passage of time, aging and the effects they can have on the freshness and vitality of mint (in other words, what is mint when it is not fresh?).

Guarana”, the South American herb and soft drink, is the inspiration for the next piece: the herb is known for its energy boosting qualities (not to mention that it is also a poor man’s Viagra).

Where’s my mint?” (mint=president) is a cynical commentary on the last two presidential elections and is based on some material from “Limp Mint”.

Having released this commentary out of our system, we safely journey with “Boy with a bag and his guardian elephant”. This piece is inspired by a pastel drawing of the same title created by a friend of mine, Jun Ishida.

minor nelson” takes us out, returning to the album’s origin, giving the listener time to integrate the journey . Hope you enjoyed the trip…

Andy Taub did a fine job again on the recording and mixing. I should mention that Andy mixed the entire record while doing the “the master cleanser” fast (AKA lemonade fast). Now that Norah Jones is recording her next record at Andy’s place…I can imagine that I will never again be able to record there…but it sure was nice, while it lasted. I went down to Carrboro, NC to witness Brent Lambert master the recording. It was fascinating to watch him work – he is a true craftsman.

Karlssonwilker (in between a new project for MTV, Adobe and designing a new sneaker for Puma) managed once again to come up with an original, wonderful design. To go along with our “semi-formal” pictures, taken by Piero Ribelli (check out his book, Zoo York – The Beastie Boys used one of those photos for their recent single Ch-Check It Out), KW graphically analyzed the CD and came up with some cool graphs, charts, etc. On my request, they included in their CD design a semi-hidden, semi-formal (but completely serious) proposal (she said yes!). One more important item, during the photo session, it became obvious that Drew missed his true calling…as a male fashion model.

-– John Hollenbeck, July 2005

PS I am eternally grateful for the hard work, energy and friendship that I have shared with Chris, Drew, Matt and Ted. Claudia lives!



  • 1.
    Major Nelson
  • 2.
  • 3.
  • 4.
    They point...glance...whisper...then snicker…
  • 5.
    Bindi binder
  • 6.
  • 7.
    Two Teachers
  • 8.
  • 9.
    Limp mint
  • 10.
  • 11.
    Where's my mint? (mint=president)
  • 12.
    Boy with a bag and his guardian elephant
  • 13.
    minor nelson

“Semi-Formal goes down like a day of wine tasting: aficionados will find much to savor in the blending of sonorities, the subtle yet structurally sound composition- al architecture, the “palette-cleansing” segues that thematically link the tracks, and the sophisticated time signatures and rhythmic phrase structures that swing so hard they appear effortless; casual listeners will appreciate the driving grooves and prog-rock edge of tracks like Major Nelson and Two Teachers inter- spersed with zen-like moments of breath and relaxation. ” – Thomas H. Greenland, All About Jazz


“Mixing minimalistavant-rock, fiery improvisation and razor sharp writing, these boys manage to reference everything from the metric trickery of Dave Holland (“Drewslate”) to the glowing ambience of The Necks (“Kord”), but they don’t really sound like anyone but themselves.” – Peter Marsh, BBC


“The group’s dominant instrumentation, even with acoustic bass and drum kit as its foundation, has a unique, unclassifiable sound to it. Accordion and vibraphone make for an intriguingly rich instrumental color blend when combined with either woody clarinet or breathy tenor sax. In lesser hands, this instrumental assemblage would have an almost nostalgically folksy air to them, but as employed by this group, they almost always sound strangely futuristic.”– Troy Collins, One Final Note