Hollenbeck's compositions exhibit his trademark sly humor and sleight of hand - I love the way he pulls a tenor solo out of his magician's hat amid a perplexing stew of pointillistic melodies and counter-melodies on 'Foreign One.' True to its title, 'Guarana' is characterized by surging, ceaseless energy and forward motion that establishes itself at the close of a deliberately woozy-sounding opening sequence. 'Eternal Interlude,' one of the CD's three large scale pieces (clocking in at just over 19 minutes) superimposes a clutch of sweetly melodic motifs over a minor-keyed wash of brass, reeds, and Theo Bleckmann's understated wordless vocals, in a way that imparts an air of brooding darkness and foreboding. This tension builds and gradually dissipates over a mosaic of pulsing reeds, low brass, and Hollenbeck's own percussion, building up a new and completely different set of tensions and energies as the orchestral volume and sound density increases and expands. Fragments of the melody are repeated and varied by different sections, and finally by individual voices like those of crickets late at night. 'Guarana' is one of my favorite pieces from the Hollenbeck canon, and the Large Ensemble variation is particularly inspiring, with Jacob Garchick's spirited trombone solo riding triumphantly over the Ensemble's surging rhythm section.
Hollenbeck's gentler, more introspective side comes to the fore on 'The Cloud' - masses of flutes, Theo Bleckmann's choral-sounding vocals and a slow-moving, mellifluous low brass part give the piece a meditative feeling, paving the way for the spoken word part that forms its core. The ensemble section that follows is profoundly moving. 'The Cloud' succeeds in portraying a space of contemplation and forgiveness without seeming preachy or sappy - an amazing achievement, if you think about it. The other large-scale piece, 'Perseverance' is ostensibly a feature for tenor saxophone virtuosos Tony Malaby and Ellery Eskelin, and returns us to the sort of hard-hitting jazz-rock-classical synthesis that makes the Claudia Quartet such an attractive proposition. Eskelin and Malaby do not disappoint - proving once again that why they are both widely considered to be among today's very best tenor saxophonists. There's also a raffishly appealing clarinet part over Hollenbeck's clattering drums that I quite enjoyed. I was also quite taken by the way Hollenbeck's drumming meshes with Kermit Driscoll's driving electric bass. Add Gary Versace on keyboards, and you have a rhythm section for the ages!
When it comes to modern large ensemble music - you cannot do much better than John Hollenbeck's "Eternal Interlude." This CD has it all - appealing, adventurous, multi-layered compositions, great soloing, unbelievably precise section work, an incredible rhythm section, and moving, memorable music. I'd love to see this band perform live. One of 2009's very best recordings.