Eileen Myles talk”
Chris Speed  clarinet/tenor saxophone
Matt Moran  vibraphone
Red Wierenga  accordion/electronics (on Fetus)
Drew Gress  acoustic bass/electronics (on Fetus)
John Hollenbeck  drums/percussion/electronics (on Fetus)/composition

“But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.”

George Orwell, 1984

There’s an old revolutionary adage that one of the first things you should do when you take over is seize the means of communication, because once you control the message you have real power. In an age of information overload and manipulation, parsing the truth out of the messages we read and hear and see is a Herculean task; a challenge taken on by drummer/composer John Hollenbeck, poet Eileen Myles, and the Claudia Quintet on their new album, Evidence-Based.

The story of the album starts in 2017, when the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) outraged many by apparently banning seven words from use in their official documents: “evidence-based,” “transgender,” “entitlement,” “fetus,” “diversity,” “science-based,” and “vulnerable.” It subsequently turned out the words were discouraged rather than banned, but by then the onslaught of the news cycle had already pushed the story out of public awareness. Hollenbeck paid attention.

“The CDC has become very important,” Hollenbeck said, “and we’ve seen the repercussions of politicizing the CDC during the pandemic. At some point I realized this story that everyone forgot about is relevant to what we’re all dealing with right now.”

Hollenbeck started out by using six of the seven words as the titles of new pieces. His musical transliterations of the terms range from punning (“Evidence-Based” contains rhythmic elements from Thelonious Monk’s “Evidence”) to direct (“Fetus” has a soundscape that sounds womb-like) to aspirational (“Transgender” takes a very loaded word and places it in a gentle, beautiful setting).

Hollenbeck met poet Eileen Myles several years ago when both were in residence at the MacDowell Colony artists retreat. He contacted Myles and asked them to collaborate. Myles described the process:

“The first thing I received was the vocabulary list,” Myles said, “which ended up being the titles of each of the things I wrote. Some time after that John gave me rough cuts of the tracks. I liked the music a lot, so that was great news. I do a lot of things at once all the time, and so sometimes the way to focus is to get the hell out of town. So I went up to Provincetown [MA] for the weekend and listened to the music a lot and took a lot of notes and tried to create a reality in which these pieces had some meaning.”

Myles’s poems (or “talks” as they call them, to pair them with the music created by the band) are, for the most part, not direct statements about either the CDC story or even the usual meaning of the words themselves. Instead they offer yet another lens on language and its use, one that compliments Hollenbeck’s music.

“A piece of music always has a vibe and a pace and a context and a momentum,” said Myles. “So I wanted to imagine occupying that in a different way. Sometimes John would indicate ‘from this moment in the cut to this moment is where i imagine you,’ so that contributed to the size or the amount of language I was going to construct. Because the words refer to a kind of government, I felt like I had to be inventing a government in which these texts would occur.”

The current membership of the Claudia Quintet is Hollenbeck on drums, tenor saxophonist Chris Speed, bassist Drew Gress, Matt Moran on vibraphone and Red Wierenga on accordion and piano. Gress and Wierenga also added an electronic score for “Fetus.” The band has been together for a long time, though Hollenbeck notes that as they age and get married and have kids, the challenges mount for the ensemble. Despite those difficulties, or maybe because of them, the band sounds committed and cohesive and exciting on Evidence-Based.

The new album is being released on Flexatonic Records, the label attached to Hollenbeck’s nonprofit Flexatonic Arts. It’s part of a plan to bring all of Hollenbeck’s albums under one label.

“I’ve been gathering up all of my releases from various labels,” Hollenbeck said. “Some of the labels didn’t exist anymore anyway. We’ll be releasing all these records on Bandcamp, the preferred platform for musicians at the moment. Our first release was Songs You Like A Lot. Evidence-Based is the second release overall and the first by the Claudia Quintet. We’re going to simultaneously re-release two of our older records, Super Petite and our other poetry record, What Is The Beautiful.”

Besides being a direct comment on a particular news story, Evidence-Based also tackles, by its existence, the idea of how the arts and politics interact.

Said Myles: “I betray my politics all the time in my work. There’s no way to keep the conditions of our moment out of the work. It’s impossible. It’s like using specific details of people’s names and locations. You can choose to be abstract and not drop points on the map but why? Everybody knows you’re on the map. It doesn’t matter if I know the name of the tree but the name of the street might be nice. I think the specificity of politics is exciting and edgy to include. I don’t have to but I can’t help it. “

Hollenbeck is on the same page: “I think you can’t avoid it and shouldn’t avoid it. I don’t want to come down on people but I find you can provide some information or a different way to look at the same thing. The music is aspirational. I’m not in a vacuum. I’m hearing all the news everyone else is hearing. Then I go into the practice room or the composing room and it’s not like that stuff goes away.”

In many ways, our current social, technological and political conditions have already left Orwell’s 1984 far behind. As we grapple with this new world, we need artists to help us find our center, to assist us in navigating the minefield. With Evidence-Based, Hollenbeck offers us a compass and a map. We all end up feeling a little less lost.

Jason Crane


‘Super Petite’ by Claudia Quintet Review: An Unusual Combo’s Varied Terrain:
Claudia Quintet alludes to everything from Argentine tango to Pakistani qawwali music.

“Drummer John Hollenbeck is one of the best and least-heralded composers in jazz, and his experience ranks among the most diverse even in an eclectic age.”
– Martin Johnson

The-Claudia-Quintet_Super-Petite_Cover_RGB_FOR WEBSITE Press


Super Petite

Super Petite

John Hollenbeck  drums/percussion/composition
Chris Speed  clarinet/tenor saxophone
Matt Moran  vibraphone
Red Wierenga  accordion
Drew Gress  acoustic bass

Contrary to the current popular trend of making works of literature or recordings longer and larger, I have focused most recently on writing shorter compositions. Super Petite is an apt and amusing term used by one of the Claudia guys to describe a friend of ours and I thought it was the perfect way to describe this collection of shortish works – well, shortish for me anyway! Many of these compositions came from studies or ideas that I wanted to practice or explore – and through further exploration they organically evolved into musical portraits or musical shorts.

Nightbreak is based on Charlie Parker’s infamous break in Night in Tunisia. When I slowed it down I discovered a hypnotic quality that gave me a mood to work with.

JFK beagle, and its sister piece EWR beagle, I wrote in honor of those cute beagles at international baggage claim who enthusiastically sniff the luggage for contraband food.

A-List is the theme song for an imaginary video featuring The Claudia Quintet strutting down the red carpet. Think “Entourage” meets the “Geek Squad”.

Philly is written for the inventive drummer Philly Joe Jones and is based on one of his infamous licks, which I open the tune with.

Peterborough owes its inspiration to the MacDowell Colony and the quaint town in which it’s nestled.

Rose Rhythm is by the master musician Doudou N’Diaye Rose, who left this realm a few weeks before we recorded the album. At first I was using Rose Rhythm as something fun to play along with before realizing it might make a great arrangement for CQ.

If You Seek a Fox is both a short caricature of a stealthy fox and a thinly disguised dig at my least favorite TV news network.

Pure Poem is based on Pure Poem 1007-1103 by Shigeru Matsui.

I think I have eaten at Mangolds, a great vegetarian restaurant in Graz, Austria, more often than any other restaurant – even sometimes twice in one day! I am assuming the restaurant is named after one of their favorite vegetables, Mangold, or more familiarly in English, Swiss chard.

Claudia loves you,


Rainbow Jimmies

Commissioned by Bang On A Can and the People’s Commissioning Fund.

BBC 2010

A jazz group questioning the divide between genres and points in time.

“The buzz around this New York ensemble has grown to a roar over the last few years, which is a delicious irony given that The Claudia Quintet is often at its most affecting when playing sotto voce, as if content to whisper rather than bellow into the listener’s ear.”
– Kevin Le Gendre

**CQ5_royal toast.cover


Opening the Window

Commissioned by the University of Rochester’s Rare Books and Special Collections Department for the 100th Birthday Celebration of Poet / Visual Artist Kenneth Patchen.

Limpidity Of Silences

Commissioned by the University of Rochester’s Rare Books and Special Collections Department for the 100th Birthday Celebration of Poet / Visual Artist Kenneth Patchen.

The Bloodhounds

Commissioned by the University of Rochester’s Rare Books and Special Collections Department for the 100th Birthday Celebration of Poet / Visual Artist Kenneth Patchen.

Beautiful You Are

Commissioned by the University of Rochester’s Rare Books and Special Collections Department for the 100th Birthday Celebration of Poet / Visual Artist Kenneth Patchen.

What Is the Beautiful?

Commissioned by the University of Rochester’s Rare Books and Special Collections Department for the 100th Birthday Celebration of Poet / Visual Artist Kenneth Patchen.


Commissioned by the Edinburgh Jazz Festival, Scotland.

Do Me That Love

Commissioned by the University of Rochester’s Rare Books and Special Collections Department for the 100th Birthday Celebration of Poet / Visual Artist Kenneth Patchen.


Commissioned by the University of Rochester’s Rare Books and Special Collections Department for the 100th Birthday Celebration of Poet / Visual Artist Kenneth Patchen.

Mates For Life

Commissioned by the Edinburgh Jazz Festival, Scotland.


The Snow is Deep On the Ground

Commissioned by the University of Rochester’s Rare Books and Special Collections Department for the 100th Birthday Celebration of Poet / Visual Artist Kenneth Patchen.

Showtime/23rd Street Runs into Heaven

Commissioned by the University of Rochester’s Rare Books and Special Collections Department for the 100th Birthday Celebration of Poet / Visual Artist Kenneth Patchen.


“John Hollenbeck continues to astound as a composer, prone to value accessibility as much he does adventure, on the fascinating What Is The Beautiful?” – John Murph

Screen Shot 2014-11-20 at 11.46.46 AM



The Claudia Quintet’s album
September in Downbeat’s HOTBOX

“The interplay of the Claudias has been magical for a few years now, but the eye-opener here is the intrepid nature of Hollenbeck’s compositional sense. ” – Jim Macnie

Screen Shot 2014-11-18 at 10.29.36 AM


The Claudia Quintet

The Claudia Quintet

Chris Speed  clarinet, tenor saxophone
Matt Moran  vibraphone, percussion
Ted Reichman  accordion
Drew Gress  acoustic bass
John Hollenbeck  drums, composition

Liner notes from The Claudia Quintet CD

I first got wind of drummer and composer John Hollenbeck about five years ago, not so long after I moved to New York City. According to the Village Voice, there was a smart new music scene bubbling up in the East Village at a healthy distance from the well established, capital-D “Downtown” scene centered around the Knitting Factory and Hollenbeck was somewhere near the center of it.

In specific, something besides java was brewing at alt.coffee, a homey little Internet café that resembled a college dorm room with a service counter. Every Monday night, the venue played host to the Refuseniks, an intrepid little trio of musical explorers comprised of Hollenbeck, accordion player Ted Reichman then making waves as a member of Anthony Braxton’s latest bands and David Krakauer’s turbocharged klezmer trio and bassist Reuben Radding. Many patrons did their level best to ignore the group as they surfed the web, but eventually word began to spread about the new music percolating at the coffeehouse.

One night early in the band’s run, a woman named Claudia came forth from the throng to profess her ardent admiration for the band. “She rambled on and on about how she was going to make our gig a regular thing she was going to tell all of her friends,” Hollenbeck recalls. “When she was done captivating me with her good intentions, Reuben and I sauntered up to our instruments for the next set. He softly whispered to me, ‘She’s never coming back.'”

Radding’s premonition proved accurate, the Refuseniks never saw Claudia again. “We tried to continue the relationship with casual fibs,” Hollenbeck says, “like, ‘Hey, I saw Claudia on the street,’ or ‘Claudia left me a message that she is definitely coming this week.’ But Claudia maintained her absence. Eventually, Radding joined her, abandoning New York in pursuit of higher education.

After a few months, Hollenbeck gathered a group of friends to form a new quintet. Alongside Reichman, the drummer enlisted the staggeringly inventive vibraphonist Matt Moran (who would come to be his closest musical partner), clarinetist/saxophonist Chris Speed and bassist Drew Gress. Moran was as yet unknown to most New Yorkers, but Speed’s slippery microtones and Gress’s assertive melodicism were familiar elements of saxophonist Tim Berne’s teeming music.

Surprisingly, Claudia joined the new band as well, as its namesake and resident muse. “I called the group the Claudia Quintet in homage to Reuben,” Hollenbeck says, “and I also wanted the group to have a sensitive, feminine quality.” He hoped to downplay his leadership, in order to emphasize the ensemble. Since he intended to have the band play fully notated works as well as improvisations, Hollenbeck also saw in the name a parallel to the conventions of chamber music ensembles like the Arditti Quartet.

Whether intentional or not, Claudia lent yet another quality to her namesake a slippery sort of elusiveness that makes the band impossible to pin down and define. Is the Claudia Quintet a jazz band? A chamber ensemble?

Truthfully, like its antecedents from the Modern Jazz Quartet to the Anthony Braxton Quartet, the band is both, and everything in between. A classically trained composer, Hollenbeck girds the opening “Meinetwegen” with rigorous structure yet the music moves and lives and breathes naturally, flowing organically from an initial melodic kernel. Voicings shift amongst groupings of clarinet, vibraphone and accordion establishing the group’s signature shimmer while Gress’s solid drive and Hollenbeck’s light, lithe beat give the track undeniable propulsion. True to the paradoxical Claudia, somehow “Meinetwegen” is simultaneously swift and unhurried.

“a-b-s-t-i-n-e-n-c-e” weds scrabbling free improv to odd-metered funk, while revealing both percussionists’ penchant for extending their sonic palettes through the use of cheap plastic toys. “Love Song for Kate” allows Gress and Speed to wax unapologetically rhapsodic in one of Hollenbeck’s loveliest melodies. The three “Thursday” pieces paint a composite portrait of Hollenbeck’s “favorite day of the week,” from the luminous church chords of the first segment through the Morton Feldman-inspired static washes of the second and the simple children’s song of the third.

“Burt and Ken” is one of the first pieces Hollenbeck wrote for the quintet. The title is a clever twist on the names of its two real-life dedicatees. The two distinct characters are sketched as deftly as Florestan and Eusebius, Schumann’s compositional ego and id. ” after a dance, we have a pint with Gil and Tim” refers to Gil Evans, who inspired the pastel modal vibraphone and military drum patterns of the second section, and Tim Berne, whose angularity is echoed in the first section. Hollenbeck refers to “No D” as a “Braxtonish prog-funk ditty,” proving that even at its brainiest, he intends the music to be fun for both player and listener.

The concluding “Visions of Claudia” recaps the Claudia saga, from initial admiration to growing frustration and, eventually, angry resignation. Still, her loss is clearly our gain. Claudia may have jilted Hollenbeck in his Refuseniks days, but in an odd way she inspired him to assemble one of New York’s most consistently creative, innovative and hard to pin down bands, and endowed the band with her elusive mystery. Thanks, Claudia wherever you are.

–Steve Smith





I, Claudia

I, Claudia

Chris Speed  clarinet, tenor saxophone
Matt Moran  vibraphone, percussion
Ted Reichman  accordion
Drew Gress  acoustic bass
John Hollenbeck  drums, composition

The Claudia Quintet’s music, while clearly influenced by the jazz idiom, goes far beyond jazz, and many parts of this record have more in common with musicians such as L’Ensemble Raye, Hamster Theatre, Nimal, Von Zamla and others. This album demonstrates that “Innovative jazz does not have to be harsh, angry, loud, shrill or grating; it can be delicate, witty, ethereal and radiantly lyric, as the Claudia Quintet pointed out…” [Chicago Tribune]. Formed by composer/drummer John Hollenbeck in 1997, this NY ensemble creates music that explores the edge in a manner that captivates and enthralls novice listeners, and keeps experienced fans returning for more. I, Claudia is a highly seductive work, ripe with compelling, propulsive grooves, dynamic sensitivity, catchy melodies and telepathic improvisation. Remarkably accessible, its music can perhaps be called postjazz. As the NY Times stated recently: “…if the music were a little bit dumber, it would resemble the music of the rock band Tortoise. No disrespect to Tortoise.”



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!





Chris Speed  clarinet, tenor saxophone
Matt Moran  vibraphone, vocals/lyrics (6)
Ted Reichman  accordion
Drew Gress  acoustic bass
John Hollenbeck  drums, comp., e-tape prep. (6)

“It’s curious, and sometimes lightly funny without sour, satiric edges. It doesn’t need alignments with jazz or rock or anything else to vindicate itself.”
-Ben Ratliff, The New York Times

“Though this combination of instruments and this blend of styles are hardly obvious, the band now sounds so thoroughly integrated and seamless that you’d think it was a tenor-trumpet quintet or a 16-piece big band. You can almost imagine other clarinet/vibes/accordion groups springing up in its wake. Yet how many would have jazz soloists as imposing and inventive as Speed and Gress, or a composer as fiendish, playful, and patient as Hollenbeck? Few. Or, actually, none. Though I encourage folks to give it a go. The Claudia Quintet, inimitable, deserves to inspire.” –Will Layman, PopMatters

hisVOICE 2014

Prostě: Hollenbeck ovládá umění smísit modernost s jazzovými reziduy, údernost s nostalgií, originalitu s refrénovostí, a tím vším (takřka) nikoho nezarmoutit.
– Z.K. Slabý

**CQ7_september_CD cover artwork


Royal Toast

Royal Toast

Chris Speed  clarinet, tenor saxophone
Matt Moran  vibraphone, percussion
Ted Reichman  accordion
Drew Gress  acoustic bass
John Hollenbeck  drums, composition

Gary Versace  piano, accordion

On their fifth CD, Royal Toast, The Claudia Quintet raise a glass in salute to their regal muse with a set of new music fit for a king – albeit one with more refined tastes and open mind than your average monarch.

If a round table seems a wholly appropriate setting for this egalitarian ensemble (with an extra place setting this time out), theirs is as much Algonquin as Camelot, renowned for their sophisticated wit as well as their sharply-honed musical jousting.

As composer/leader John Hollenbeck points out, the title might also sound a bit “silly” – but there’s something in its odd incongruity that exemplifies the band’s one-of-a-kind sound.

“I like toast,” Hollenbeck explains with characteristically laconic humor, “and I noticed that if you put ‘royal’ in front of something, it seems elevated.”

The Claudia Quintet has similarly been finding the majestic in the mundane (or vice versa) for more than a dozen years. Nowhere is that more evident than on Royal Toast, where Hollenbeck began by collecting song titles found in often unlikely sources, divorcing them from their original context, and devising music inspired by these evocative phrases.

Hollenbeck’s compositions somehow conjure raucous beauty from dizzying complexity, enticing the emotions with lilting melodies or irresistible grooves while engaging the cerebral side in a surreptitious workout. The music marries jazz, new music, post-rock – but no laundry list of influences is quite sufficient to describe their iconoclastic sound. Suffice it to say, you can feel secure bringing your hipster nephew and your math professor along to a gig, and everyone will go home happy.

Of course, no one could pull off such a a trompe l’oreille without a well-honed ensemble, and the Claudia Quintet has, through intensive collaboration since their 1997 debut, developed a language all their own. The music can best – perhaps only – be defined by the individuals who create it – Hollenbeck on drums, Drew Gress (Tim Berne, Ravi Coltrane, Fred Hersch) on bass, Matt Moran (Slavic Soul Party, Mat Maneri, Ellery Eskelin) on vibraphone, Ted Reichman (Anthony Braxton, Marc Ribot, Paul Simon) on accordion, and Chris Speed (Bloodcount, Yeah No, Human Feel) on clarinet and tenor sax.

As attuned as the Quintet have become to each other, they’re each remarkably attuned to themselves, as Hollenbeck discovered while recording the CD. Bridging several of the pieces on the album are short improvised interludes in which each member plays a short improvised duet with himself – unbeknownst to them until the tracks were in the can. While they sound as if each side of the mirror is reacting to the other, they were actually played separately and married after the fact.

“I didn’t know if it was going to work, so I didn’t tell anybody I was doing it,” Hollenbeck admits. “And I couldn’t believe it because each one just worked fabulously. It was totally unbelievable how they breathed in the same places – Drew even has a rest in the same spot. I think the result is better, actually, than if I had asked them to react to their solos. That might have been a little artificial.”

The quintet is here supplemented by pianist Gary Versace, a longtime collaborator of Hollenbeck’s (including the composer’s Large Ensemble and in the Refuge Trio along with vocalist Theo Bleckmann).

“Gary and I have very similar aesthetics,” Hollenbeck says, “so what he plays is exactly what I would I be doing if I could play piano really well. Gary has a very composerly approach, so he’s very sensitive to the music and tries to make his part sound composed even when it’s not.”

The addition of Versace means that half of the band is now essentially playing percussive instruments, giving Hollenbeck more opportunity than ever to follow his polyrhythmic muse – which emerges most fully on the gleefully intricate title track. But the album begins not with force but with lush intoxication. “Crane Merit” sets an unexpectedly atmospheric mood, enveloping the listener with an idyllic warmth.

Introduced by a Hollenbeck solo that gradually builds into funky propulsion, “Keramag” is the album’s toe-tappingest tune, densely wrought and utterly infectious. It and “Zurn” have the titles with the least concrete associations; the latter is a through-composed piece that generates considerable tension through an insistent drum/piano figure that is thoroughly dispelled by its ethereal finale.

“Sphinx”, on the other hand, brings very distinct associations to mind, which Hollenbeck followed through Egypt to African rhythmic influences. The word “Standard” crops up twice, and in each case the composer took this as a cue to use jazz as a leaping-off point, penning an abstracted ballad with “Ideal Standard” and a fractured anthem on “American Standard.”

The album closes with the elegiac “For Frederick Franck”, an homage to the Dutch-born painter, sculptor and author who died in 2006 at the age of 97. Hollenbeck’s personal connection to the artist comes via a sculpture park in upstate New York that Franck designed and where Hollenbeck proposed to his wife. But Franck’s expansive philosophy is also representative of Hollenbeck’s boundary-blurring approach to genre.

“The meaning of life is to see,” Franck espoused in his work, and the Claudia Quintet approach music with eyes wide open.

This work by John Hollenbeck & the Claudia Quintet with Gary Versace was made possible with support from Chamber Music America’s 2009 New Jazz Works: Commissioning and Ensemble Development program funded through the generosity of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.





John Hollenbeck  drums/percussion/composition
Chris Speed  clarinet/tenor saxophone
Matt Moran  vibraphone
Red Wierenga  accordion
Drew Gress  acoustic bass (1, 4, 7-10)
Chris Tordini  acoustic bass (2-3, 5-6)


What I usually enjoy most about listening to a new recording is the mystery of not knowing anything about it at the first listen – and then going through the process of learning about the music, the musicians, and perhaps the stories behind the music. If you too would like to keep some of that mystery intact for a while longer, you might want to stop reading here, as I am about to share a bit of background into this set of music.

Since September of 2001, I have endeavored to dedicate four weeks every year solely to the task of composing by going to an artist residency where this is possible. Often this is the only time in my busy schedule when I feel like a real composer, and it is always a time of personal growth and recognition. My first retreat was at heaven on earth: the Blue Mountain Center in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York. I cannot express in words what this amazing place, and more importantly the truly incredible people there, gave me on my first and every subsequent visit – but I hope that this recording can express through music at least a sliver of my profound gratitude.

In addition to Blue Mountain Center, I have also spent important “alone time” at the Wurlitzer Houses in Taos, NM; Yaddo in Saratoga Springs, NY; and last year at the beautiful Liguria Study Center in Bogliasco, Italy, where most of the music on this recording was written. September has most often been the month for these retreats – it is a wonderful month and for me also the equivalent to Thursday, my favorite day of the week which I have celebrated in song on the first Claudia Quintet CD!

September is a time of transition from summer to fall, a time when I can enjoy being outside during the day and inside for the cool evenings. Like most Americans, my own September 2001 experience has stuck with me. So much so that I realized I cannot think or see or write down a date in September without those memories coming back to me. Last September I came up with the idea to write music that was somehow tied to other days in September in the hope of trying to rework and transform the traumatic residue through composition. I am especially interested in how, through the simple non-violent act of composition, one can help oneself become a better person, deepen ones connection to humanity, and create work that can soothe and heal.

The dates in the titles are in most cases the dates when the compositions were started or sometimes when they were finished. At first, the dates were merely a method to save these ideas as files in my computer in an organized way. The sub-titles were then a way to further identify some quality of each idea to give it its own space and feel. Sometimes the sub-title refers to the main thrust of the piece, sometimes just the first thing that inspired me to begin the composition.

My other main objective for this particular set of music was to create music for the Claudia Quintet that could be communicated to and performed without using written music. This has been a goal of mine for quite some time, but my usual compositional approach has often gotten in the way of making something that can be easily learned by rote and/or memorized. For this album, as the first attempt at realizing this goal, I wrote down as little as possible during the compositional process in order to keep the music in the aural world for as long as possible. I felt that the longer I was able to work out the piece without notes on a page, the easier it would be for the band to learn and memorize the music without having to rely on notation. In the end, some music did need to be expressed on paper, but we have nevertheless made a welcome leap into a world without music stands and we are happier for it. Enjoy!
–John Hollenbeck

The Claudia Quintet

The Claudia Quintet

Chris Speed  clarinet/tenor saxophone
Red Wierenga  accordion/piano
Drew Gress  acoustic bass
Matt Moran  vibraphone
John Hollenbeck  drums/composition

The Claudia Quintet has walked a unique path in contemporary jazz since their founding in the late 1990s. Unlike most jazz ensembles where the particular musicians may come and go, drummer, composer and leader John Hollenbeck always wanted Claudia to be a ‘band’ with a sound not only determined by the compositions and the instrumentation, but with the actual players who perform the music. This concept is why Claudia has had an immediately identifiable sound since its inception. In that sound, the exceptional artistry and individuality of each musician is skillfully revealed throughout Hollenbeck’s original compositions.

Formed by Hollenbeck in 1997, this NYC ensemble’s sound continues to explore the edge without alienating the mainstream, proving that genre-defying music can be for everyone. The Claudia Quintet has amazed audiences from Alabama to the Amazon. Their singular sound has inspired dancing hippie girls at a New Mexico noise festival, the avant-garde cognoscenti in the concert halls of Vienna and Sao Paulo, and a generation of young musicians worldwide. In the course of the thousands of miles they have traveled together and hundreds of concerts they’ve played, the Claudia Quintet has evolved and grown, developing a dynamic live sound based on trust and spontaneity. They bring this powerful energy into the studio, where they record the old-fashioned way, live, playing as a band.

Over the course of 15 years, the group has released nine CDs that are critically acclaimed worldwide and whose appeal extends well beyond, as well as includes, traditional jazz audiences. The group’s first album, “The Claudia Quintet,” was released in 2001 on the Blueshift CRI record label. The group established a long time relationship with the Cuneiform label, releasing seven albums with them.

Hollenbeck received a grant in 2009 from the Chamber Music America New Jazz Works: Commissioning and Ensemble Development program to compose a suite that can be heard on their fifth album, Royal Toast. The Claudia Quintet brings together the acclaimed compositional approach of Hollenbeck with two of the most important male singers in improvised music, Kurt Elling and Theo Bleckmann on their sixth album, What Is the Beautiful? The quintet was commissioned by the University of Rochester to set the work of Kenneth Patchen as part of their 100th birthday celebration of the groundbreaking poet. Elling and Bleckmann recite and sing the poems of avant-garde/proto-beat American poet, Patchen, an innovator in his time. Claudia’s latest release, Evidence-Based, with special guest poet Eileen Myles takes on censorship and truth in their first Bandcamp-exclusive release.

The Claudia Quintet received grants from USArtists International/Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation to travel to Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, Brazil for performances in the spring of 2002, and to Kathmandu, Nepal for performances in the Jazzmandu festival in the fall of 2013.  You can learn about how The Claudia Quintet got its name in the liner notes to their self-titled first CD, The Claudia Quintet.

In the Claudia Quintet, Hollenbeck has assembled a group of the foremost innovators in this new sound to create a powerhouse band. They are: Drew Gress – bass (John Abercrombie, Uri Caine, Ravi Coltrane); Chris Tordini – frequent fill-in on bass (Andy Milne, Steve Lehman, Becca Stevens); Matt Moran – vibraphone (Slavic Soul Party, Mat Maneri, Nate Wooley); Red Wierenga – accordion (Respect Sextet, Signal, Brad Lubman); and Chris Speed – clarinet and tenor saxophone (Uri Caine, Endangered Blood, Alas No Axis).

Royal Toast

Wind 1 – Flute
Electric Guitar
Wind 1 – Flute
Electric Guitar

the claudia quintet

What Is The Beautiful?

What Is The Beautiful?

Chris Speed  clarinet/tenor saxophone
Matt Moran  vibraphone
Ted Reichman  accordion
Drew Gress  acoustic bass
John Hollenbeck  drums/keyboard/comp.

special guests
+1 = Matt Mitchell  piano
Theo Bleckmann  voice (2, 5, 8, 11)
Kurt Elling  voice (1, 4, 7, 10, 12)

“Soon it will/Be showtime again,” recites Kurt Elling at the outset of The Claudia Quintet’s sixth CD, What Is the Beautiful? “Somebody will paint beautiful faces all over the sky.”

The sentiment expressed by those lines, penned by poet/visual artist Kenneth Patchen, captures something of the anticipation proffered by the release of a new Claudia album. Bandleader/percussionist John Hollenbeck’s evocative, richly luminescent compositions definitely possess the suggestive power to encourage listeners to look heavenward, searching for those faces in the sky.

Richard Peek, director of Rare Books and Special Collections at the University of Rochester Libraries, describes Patchen’s body of work as one that “defies easy categorization and is undeniably his own.” Perhaps in that one statement, more than in any aesthetic choice or thematic material, we can find the common ground between poet and composer.

Most of the material on What Is the Beautiful? was commissioned by the University of Rochester for its 100th birthday celebration of Patchen in 2011. Not particularly conversant with the poet’s work, Hollenbeck began a crash course and found himself immediately drawn to the breadth of Patchen’s themes.

“He has a wide palette, which I like,” Hollenbeck says. “There are a lot of really dark, political poems, but then he has whole collections of almost childlike drawings with very short, funny poems. And usually in every collection there are lyrical love poems, always dedicated to his wife, which are more flowery, almost old-fashioned. I really started to love the humor, the darkness, and the sincere love he had for his wife.”

Born in 1911, Patchen was an avant-gardist with strong pacifist leanings. His work bears an obvious kinship with the Beats, though he dwelt on the periphery of that scene, never one to align himself with any movement or affiliation. He was an early experimenter in the fusion of jazz and poetry, often reciting his work against a bebop backdrop (slyly alluded to here in the eccentric swing during the opening moments of “Showtime”). A debilitating back injury kept him away from public engagements for most of his life, and he spent more than a decade bedridden before his death in 1972.

Hollenbeck immediately thought of singer Kurt Elling to give voice to these poems – wholly unaware that Elling is something of a Patchen aficionado. “Kurt is a scholar with this stuff,” Hollenbeck says. “He knew Patchen and knew exactly what to do. He’s amazing.”

On his own recordings, Patchen recites his work in a gruff monotone; Elling, on the other hand, inhabits these poems as an actor would a role. On “Showtime,” he welcomes listeners with the bold enunciation of a television emcee; he lurches through “Opening the Window” with an intoxicated stagger; and he recounts the menacing absurdities of the surreal “Job” with dueling voices: his own and a blue-collar Chicago accent, transforming the piece into a duet of narrator and character.

Surprisingly, Hollenbeck discovered that engineer Andy Taub was also a Patchen fanatic, with his own collection of the poet’s works. It was his idea to alternate Elling’s two readings. “He was really into the material and was blown away by the way Kurt was reading the poems,” Hollenbeck recalls. “More than your average engineer, he was really involved in the creative process.”

Vocalist Theo Bleckmann, probably Hollenbeck’s most frequent collaborator, was also enlisted to lend a dreamier, more song-like atmosphere to several of the poems. “Theo has a very gentle, open, vulnerable approach,” Hollenbeck says. He uses that voice to stunning effect on “The Snow Is Deep On the Ground,” which conjures the image of swirling snow and the crystalline hush of a fresh snowfall on a still morning.

Two of the session’s three instrumental tracks were commissioned by the Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival and inspired by the Scottish island of Islay, renowned for its wintering geese. “Mates For Life” unfolds with a rich narrative progression, while “Flock” lives up to its name with a frenzy of percussive fluttering.

As on their previous CD, Royal Toast, the Claudia Quintet is again supplemented by a +1, in this case Philadelphia-based pianist Matt Mitchell, a member of saxophonist Tim Berne’s Adobe Probe who has collaborated with the likes of Ravi Coltrane, Ralph Alessi, Mark Helias, Ari Hoenig and Josh Roseman. His virtuosity and spontaneity make him a perfect fit with the long-running core group – Hollenbeck on drums, Drew Gress (Tim Berne, Ravi Coltrane, Fred Hersch) on bass, Matt Moran (Slavic Soul Party, Mat Maneri, Ellery Eskelin) on vibraphone, Ted Reichman (Anthony Braxton, Marc Ribot, Paul Simon) on accordion, and Chris Speed (Bloodcount, Yeah No, Human Feel) on clarinet and tenor sax.

Shaun Brady