frankfurt radio big band with john hollenbeck, kate mcgarry, theo bleckmann & uri caine

2015, Sunnyside
2020, Flexatonic Records (re-issue)


Theo Bleckmann  voice
Kate McGarry  voice
Uri Caine piano, organ
John Hollenbeck  composer, arranger, conductor
Gary Versace  melodica, organ

hr Radio Bigband
Heinz-Dieter Sauerborn  alto/sop sax, flute
Oliver Leicht  alto sax, clarinet, alto clar, flute
Tony Lakatos  ten/sop sax
Julian Argüelles  sop sax 
Steffan Weber  ten/sop sax, flute, bass clar
Rainer Heute  bass sax, bass/contra-bass clar, clar
Frank Wellert  trumpet, flugelhorn
Thomas Vogel  trumpet, flugelhorn
Martin Auer  trumpet, flugelhorn
Axel Schlosser  trumpet, flugelhorn, flumpet
Günter Bollman  trombone
Peter Feil  trombone
Christian Jaksjø  trombone, bari horn, bass tpt
Manfred Honetschläger  bass trombone
Martin Scales  guitar
Thomas Heidepriem  bass
Jean Paul Höchstädter  drums
Claus Kiesselbach [as special guest]
mallet percussion, timpani

Including Songs Made Famous by Cyndi Lauper, Daft Punk, The Carpenters, The Fifth Dimension & More

How to follow-up a Grammy-nominated album disarmingly called Songs I Like a Lot? By broadening the canvas and releasing Songs We Like a Lot, of course. John Hollenbeck returns after the triumph of Songs I Like a Lot, accompanied again by vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckmann and pianist Uri Caine, with an expanded palette and even more robust sonic transformations, encompassing everything from Burt Bacharach to the poetry of Kenneth Patchen, from Cyndi Lauper to a deconstructed “Get Lucky.”

A combination of indelible pop tunes and his own compositions, Songs We Like a Lot is propelled throughout by Hollenbeck’s creative arrangements for the Frankfurt Radio Bigband. These arrangements are heard to spellbinding effect in the album’s opener, a moving reimagining of “How Can I Keep From Singing.” The song is most strongly associated with Pete Seeger, and co-written by him; this rendition is intended as a tribute to the recently departed folksinger, who passed away only last year. A slowly swelling opening fanfare gives way to a steady pulse, which in turn builds, via a lovely tenor solo by Steffen Weber, to a rich crescendo, the horns framing delicious harmonies from McGarry and Bleckmann.

Like Miles Davis before him, Hollenbeck plucks a Cyndi Lauper hit — in this case, “True Colors,” penned by Tom Kelly and Billy Steinberg — from the pop pantheon, chopping and screwing it into a reconstituted suite that retains the lilting flow of the original while using new harmonies and repetitive motifs to recontextualize the beauty inherent in the song. (And not least rescuing it from Kodak-ad purgatory.)

Among the Hollenbeck originals is “The Snow Is Deep on the Ground,” a delicate composition that originally appeared on the Claudia Quintet’s What is the Beautiful?  Bleckmann sings words by poet Kenneth Patchen in both versions; here, rather than the skeletal framework of the quintet, his voice is embraced by a full brass and woodwind blanket of sound. Pianist Uri Caine and vocalist Kate McGarry are two new additions to this lovely, enlarged version.

Another poet’s words figure in the Hollenbeck original “Constant Conversation” — those of 13th-century poet and mystic Rūmī. “Constant Conversation” uses Middle Eastern musical motifs to undergird McGarry’s spoken-word vocal. A riff and a drone and an unerring sense of melody allows Hollenbeck to create an atmosphere that feels at once deeply personal and innately global. This is sole tune on which keyboardist Gary Versace appears on this record, though his piano was heard throughout Songs I Like a Lot.


  • 1.
    How Can I Keep from Singing - Robert Lowry [words: Robert Lowry, Pete Seeger & Doris Plenn], feat. Steffen Weber (ts)
  • 2.
    True Colors - Tom Kelly and Billy Steinberg, feat. Tony Lakatos (ts)
  • 3.
    Close to You - Burt Bacharach and Hal David, feat. Axel Schlosser (flpt), Martin Scales (g)
  • 4.
    Constant Conversation - John Hollenbeck [words: Rumi], feat. Oliver Leicht (cl), Julian Arguelles (ss), Christian Jaksjø (bh), Axel Schlosser (tpt)
  • 5.
    Get Lucky Manifesto - John Hollenbeck [words: Pharrell Williams, Nile Rodgers, Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo & Thomas Bangalter] feat. computer generated voice in Russian
  • 6.
    The Snow is Deep on the Ground - John Hollenbeck [words: Kenneth Patchen] feat. Christian Jaksjø (bass tpt), Oliver Leicht (cl), Uri Caine (p)
  • 7.
    Up, Up and Away - Jimmy Webb

“What you’re hearing with these truly extraordinary jazz artists is jazz giving itself permission to luxuriate in pure haunting beauty with no guilt whatsoever. And with Hollenbeck, you’re hearing such shameless and luxurious intelligence applied to melodies that are both familiar and beloved.
And, as the leader/arranger proves, just as lovable when they’re given such hardy but exquisite instrumental settings.
Leave plenty of room in your life to be hearing this music continuously for days or even weeks.”
– Jeff Simon, Buffalo News