Tuesday, February 19, 2013

John Hollenbeck - Songs I Like a Lot (Sunnyside, 2013)

Percussionist and composer John Hollenbeck has a restless spirit which he has harnessed to lead several groups from the inventive Claudia Quintet to his own large ensemble. On this album he goes in a different direction, using the unique vocal talents of Theo Bleckmann and Kate McGarry and the Frankfurt Radio Big Band to present re-arrangements to pop and jazz songs that have caught his ear over the years. “Wichita Lineman” shows how this setting of musicians can transform a rather maudlin pop song into something more interesting. The two singers trade different pieces of the song, and they have a very clear tone to their voices which can rise nicely as the band swells to a crescendo. “The Moon’s a Harsh Mistress” is stretched way out, taken beyond its folk and country (and science-fiction) roots. The use of the radio big band is very important to this song, because of the wide range of sound and color that is made available to build textures which frame the lyrics. The broad sound and the emotion that McGarry brings to the reading of the song seems to suggest that this arrangement would be as comfortable as part of a Broadway musical as a jazz performance. After the comparatively lush songs that preceded it, “Man of Constant Sorrow” comes as a rather bracing surprise. The music comes hard and fast and Bleckmann’s vocal with McGarry shadowing him digs deep into the despair and longing that is the core of the song. Equally bracing and surprising is the cover of Queen’s 7-inch 1978 single “Bicycle Race” where the riotous singing seems to jump right out of the speakers. The instrumental playing is choppy and exciting, pushing the song and the singers ever forward. (The b-side of “Bicycle Race” was “Fat Bottomed Girls.” I’m keeping my fingers crossed that this band can reconvene and cover that song on a follow-up album.) This was a very interesting album that melded a number of disparate parts into a cohesive whole. Combining pop music, jazz and touches of cabaret, Hollenbeck has created a unique and accessible form of music that defies ready classification. Songs I Like a Lot - amazon.com

Send comments to Tim.