"It's a real ensemble record, without many solos in the traditional jazz sense; the musicians play in tight, arranged sections, but also go to the other extreme, teasing out weird timbres and textures." -Ben Ratliff, The New York Times
"[O]ne of the most brilliant musicians I've had the privilege of working with." - Meredith Monk
"John Hollenbeck [has] achieved a maturity and musicality that defy categories and stretch our sensibilities to new heights.... His world view, his imagination, his daring, and his skills, combined with a God-given gift, make him - to my ears - one of our most important composers." - Bob Brookmeyer
John Hollenbeck, who thinks of his 18-piece aggregation as an "ensemble of musicians" rather than a big band, takes the sound, energy, and force of a jazz big band and uses it in a way that doesn't sound dated or generic. The result is personal, non-genre specific music that redefines jazz big band music through novel instrumentation, sound, styles, rhythms, and material that ranges from funk, free, and straight-ahead jazz to minimalist music, African rhythms, and art song.
Hollenbeck, who studied with or was deeply influenced by innovative arrangers Bob Brookmeyer, Maria Schneider, and Jim McNeelyand, draws influences from Gyorgy Ligetí, Peter Garland, Brian Eno, and John Adams. He invents inclusive, "genreless" music that should appeal to a wide range of listeners, including fans of conventional jazz (not swing) big bands, improvised music, rhythmic/drum music, and ECM-like "new" classical music. Fascinating extended melodies, overlaid rhythmic textures, and out-of-the-ordinary timbres - including "bowed vibes," English horns, and the human voice - color and illuminate the music. The four octave voice of Theo Bleckmann is used extensively, both verbally, on breathtaking settings of "An Irish Blessing" (in the extended title track, "A Blessing," that opens the album) and "The Music of Life" (a poem by Hazrat Inayat Khan), and non-verbally, as an ensemble instrument that permeates the recording. From panting and grunting in "Weiji," to sci-fi outer space sounds whirring byin "Abstinence," to instilling pure and ethereal tone as it intermingles with bassist Kermit Driscoll's bass harmonics at the end of "The Music of Life," the never-before-heard timbres Bleckmann's voice creates with the ensemble are stunning.
Already known for his innovative drumming, Hollenbeck has a fan base of new music and progressive jazz aficionadosand a growing "cult" fan base from among progressive rock listeners, bolstered by extensive touring with his own Claudia Quintetand recordings with Quartet Lucyand as an in-demand sideman with Bob Brookmeyer's New Art Orchestra, Fred Hersch, the Jim McNeely Tentet, the Village Vanguard Orchestra, and Cuong Vu, among others. Featured on A Blessing are Ben Kono, flute, soprano and alto saxophone, bass clarinet; Chris Speed, clarinet; Tom Christensen, tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, English horn; Dan Willis, tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, English horn; Alan Won, baritone saxophone, bass clarinet; Jon Owens, Tony Kadleck, Dave Ballou, Laurie Frink, trumpet; Rob Hudson, Kurtis Pivert, Jacob Garchik, Alan Ferber, trombone; Gary Versace, piano Kermit Driscoll, bass; John Hollenbeck, drums, percussion; Matt Moran, mallets; Theo Bleckmann, voice; and JC Sanford, conductor.