Review: John Hollenbeck at LJF

Simon Adams enjoys a set characterised by adventure and innovation from drummer John Hollenbeck at the London Jazz Festival

The results of drummer and composer John Hollenbeck’s (pictured right) short tutorial residency at the Royal Academy of Music were on display on London’s Southbank as part of the 2013 London Jazz Festival. Steering the 18-piece band through some demanding charts, Hollenbeck demanded and got split-second attention to timing, close attention to texture and detail, and a great sense of fun. Monk’s Four In One was radically reworked while Abstinence, which led inevitably into much post-abstinence imbibing, ran through a range of emotions from quiet introspection to cacophonous outcries. Hollenbeck recalled one of his favourite songs with a surprisingly straight version of Jimmy Webb’s Wichita Lineman, ably sung by Jacob Collier. A jumping version of Kraftwerk’s The Model ended proceedings on a high.

Hollenbeck’s Claudia Quintet (pictured below left) took the stage for the second half, featuring a new accordionist in Red Wierenga. They mostly played music from the group’s new CD, September, a collection of songs associated in Hollenbeck’s mind with different days of that month. Not surprisingly, there was an elegiac feel to much of the music, an introspection not much seen in their music before now. Somber Blanket was dominated by plaintive accordion lines while The Coping Song was a low-key clarinet-led shuffle.

In radically different style were the up-tempo Lemons, dedicated to pianist Jason Moran, and 1936 “Me Warn You”, a theatrical piece incorporating a speech President Roosevelt made during his 1936 re-election campaign in which he stated the importance of state intervention and welfare. In its use of repeated speech, the piece recalled Steve Reich’s seminal It’s Gonna Rain, the start of his use of phases in building up a work. For sheer ingenuity, the concert ended with Flocks, Hollenbeck at piano leading his group through an eerie reconstruction of the sound of a flock of geese. Hollenbeck is always an adventurous musician, pushing at the compositional limits with whatever performers he has to hand. The two sets on the Southbank proved his sense of adventure is still intact.

Photography by John Watson

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