John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble

Released August 18, 2009

Grammy Nominee for Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album 2010



This really isn’t a jazz recording, nor a classical one, either. The instrumentation reminds one of the jazz big bands of old, which have long since disappeared, but this group lives in a world without classification. In effort to be fair to the eclecticism of the composer and group, Sunnyside avoids the labeling game and is proud to present the new recording from the John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble, Eternal Interlude. Hollenbeck continues to prove his extraordinary skill as composer and improviser in a number of groups, most notably the Claudia Quintet and his Large Ensemble. The composer/percussionist is comfortable using musical elements from a vast array of genres, including modern classical, jazz, and progressive rock. The effect is a completely unique sonic palette that can shimmer and float, or drive and rock. Hollenbeck’s unique compositional style makes him a highly sought composer for commissioned pieces, which all the featured pieces are. The Ensemble featuresmany luminarymembers of experimental music, including vocalist Theo Bleckmann to beautiful effect. Eternal Interlude showcases an amazing composer and group making music that is beyond classification.

Track Listing:

1. Foreign One (John Hollenbeck) 9:15

Commissioned by Scottish National Jazz Orchestra and is dedicated to composer Thelonious Monk and based on his composition “Four in One.”

2. Eternal Interlude (John Hollenbeck) 19:20

Commissioned by Gotham Wind Symphony and Sigi Feigl.

3. Guarana (John Hollenbeck) 8:36

Commissioned by University of Northern Colorado Jazz Ensemble.

4. The Cloud (John Hollenbeck) 13:09

Commissioned by Bamberg Symphony Choir and Big Band.

5. No Boat (John Hollenbeck) 2:01

6. Perseverance (John Hollenbeck) 17:47

Commissioned by Orquestra Jazz de Matosinhos.


John Hollenbeck: drums
Ben Kono: flute, alto saxophone
Jeremy Viner: clarinet, tenor saxophone
Tony Malaby: tenor saxophone
Dan Willis: tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, flute, english horn
Bohdan Hilash: clarinet, contralto
Ellery Eskelin: tenor saxophone
Rob Hudson: trombone
Mike Christianson: trombone
Jacob Garchik: trombone
Alan Ferber: trombone
Tony Kadleck: trumpet / fluegelhorn
Jon Owens – trumpet / fluegelhorn
Dave Ballou: trumpet / fluegelhorn
Laurie Frink: trumpet / fluegelhorn
Kermit Driscoll: acoustic / electric Bass
Gary Versace: piano, organ, keyboard
Matt Moran: mallet percussion
John Ferrari: mallet percussion
Theo Bleckmann: vocals
Jc Sanford: conductor

Recorded at Avatar Studio C on 8-9 March 2009 

Producer: John Hollenbeck

Engineer: James Farber


The music on Eternal Interlude by drummer John Hollenbeck cannot be described in one word, but if it could that word would be “poignant.” But of course, one word is not enough, so in settling for two, those would be “poignant” and “challenging.” But then two words appear so insufficient, and the search widens and reveals, perhaps, an additional word to go with “poignant” and “challenging,” and that word is “epic.” But then another listen reveals that even three words do not do the record justice. And then a sudden thought appears out of thin air, slap bang in the middle of a spectacular, extended Hollenbeck drum solo: this musical canvas painted by John Hollenbeck is larger than life. 
The drummer uses tonal colors in limitless permutations and combinations. The aural textures woven into the warp and weft of its musical tapestry are hypnotic. In an all-pervasive pulse, vertical and horizontal paths criss-cross and are only broken by the wonderfully incessant ripple of rhythms. And from then on the music evolves in interminable circles as instruments enter and exit the music together and separately. 
Although Hollenbeck plays drums (and whistles) he is more like a percussion colorist, with colorist being the key word. As a composer, he plies his craft with awed reverence for the myriad sounds available to his musical palette. How mellifluously, for instance, he does so on “Foreign One,” as brassy growls and thin wails slide together in magical glissandos rubbing shoulders with the chipped rhythmic humming and melodic rim-shot rattling punctuated by staccato rolls. This fluidity is often happily disturbed and broken by polytonal dissonances from piano and melodic percussion. There is manic and Thelonious Monkish, aerial and subterranean soloing with tenor sax, as piano and ensemble escort this music to an inevitable crescendo. Percussion—drums and hammered chords on piano—shatter the peace in a dramatic conclusion. 
The title track is a classical lament. Almost a third of the piece features a probing attack—in a noirish metaphor, the proverbial hour before the dawn, so to speak. The dark nature of this bolero-like section of the piece is only tempered by the bright triplets and trills vamped on Gary Versace darting gallops in the piano’s upper register. Haunting voices enter and exit like smokey clouds. Hollenbeck trips in and out of the ensemble too, lifting the music up and down to barely a whisper. When the chorus returns the piano and melodic percussion introduce a decidedly brighter, redemptive harmony into the seemingly salvific endgame of the piece. 

Hollenbeck appears to be a metaphysical musician and he proves that it is possible to use tone, color and texture to compose and mirror his depth of thought. “Eternal Interlude” and several other pieces on the record give ample evidence. On “Guarana,” the seemingly loose harmonic flood of woodwinds and brass are hung on the symmetrical elements of voice and other instruments. Then a tantalizing vamp on piano and drums draw the trombone out of its reverie and in a hush, a still-swinging “Guarana” ends as quietly as it began. On the piano, it is like restless keys, ebony and ivory, entered into a deep resonant sleep. “The Cloud” is a heavily layered piece, and if followed as a narrative, tells a story, through the sound of a dense set-up by the ensemble, like a tableau featuring the interaction between an initiate and a learned master. The Zen-like flow of this elegant music spirals around the Latin “Donna Nobis Pacem,” (grant us peace) and also makes reference to a fragment from the ancient Sanskrit chant “Om Namah Shivaiya” (also a prayer in times of turbulence). 
The musical arrangement of “Perseverance,” on the other hand, contrasts the timbral values of woodwinds—clarinets exploring the deep and labyrinthine stairwells of numerous registers. Up and down the notes progress, while Hollenbeck pecks and prods, rolls and rumbles across his drums. Here the percussionist covers the entire spectral topography of his kit and in doing so he creates as incessant dynamic, dictated by the varying tension of the skins of various drums. It seems this will never stop until the percussionist lures all the other instruments into a gratifying crescendo and into the song’s denouement. 
By the time the 12-tone piece, “No Boat,” brings the set to a dramatic close, another thought assaults the senses. Can this be a John Hollenbeck homage to literary epics such as Gilgamesh? Or is it just his way of stringing together apparently disparate pieces into his own epic description of humanity’s pilgrim journey? Now that too is worth a thought and a careful listen.

Raul da Gama Rose (AllAboutJazz)