The Claudia Quintet

Tues. Oct. 9

8 p.m.

$10, $5 for CofC students

Recital Hall, Simons Center

54 St. Philip St.

(843) 953-5927

“Drewslate” from the album Semi-Formal
Audio File

“It’s really hard to describe our sound because it’s a combination of the music that we love,” says drummer, composer, and mild-mannered bandleader John Hollenbeck, of the N.Y. instrumental combo The Claudia Quintet. “We’ve been together for 10 years. It’s jazz based, but there are rock, electronic, and chamber influences. I try to write things that are new and unique. Luckily, most people have different access points for music to get into the harmony or rhythm.”

Presented by the New Music Collective and the College of Charleston’s Jazz Department, The Claudia Quintet make their Charleston debut this Tuesday. The gig is part of their five-state “More Hair” tour down the East Coast, celebrating their brand-new studio album For (Cuneiform).

The band’s 2005 album, Semi-Formal, grooved hard with an odd mix of modern and traditional jazz and a bit of vintage prog-rock. If played on distorted electric guitars, the highly-syncopated “Drewslate” could easily have worked on an early King Crimson or Yes album. Hollenbeck’s feathery snare, tom, and cymbal work on the song “Guarana” (a rollicking, slightly dissonant jam in 7/8 time) push the rhythm section at a steady pace.

Other recordings demonstrate an ability to drone quietly and gradually build a crescendo from one melodic exploration to another; to embellish a simple melody over a sleepy groove in 4/4 time, or to rattle away with complex intertwining harmonic conversations over odd time signatures.

A 2007 Guggenheim Fellowship Award winner, Hollenbeck leads a solid lineup comprised of Ted Reichman on accordion, Matt Moran on vibraphone, Chris Speed on clarinet and saxophone, and Gary Versace on “organ bass” (filling in for regular touring acoustic bassist Drew Gress).

“It can be difficult to be in that role as bandleader,” says the drummer. “I’ve gotten better at it. If you want to steer the music in a different direction [on stage], it’s hard to do that as a drummer. I’m not up front, ready to turn around and talk to the bandmates. Some of the greats — Max Roach, Art Blakey, Elvin Jones, Jack DeJohnette — had hand signals and stuff. There are pluses and minuses, but we really know the music well, so it’s more of a group effort.”

Hollenbeck attended the esteemed Eastman School of Music in the late ’80s. “I had a unique experience at school,” he remembers. “I had the foundation experience that you really need — music history, music theory, ensemble playing. That’s all very essential. It should be about 50/50 — the foundational stuff and the opportunity to experiment on your own.”

The Claudia Quintet formed in 1997 after the dissolution of Hollenbeck’s and Reichman’s previous band, The Refuseniks Trio. They wanted to explore “completely notated new music” as well as jazz-based, improv-based music. The band’s current set is a cool hybrid of old and new jazz modes. The instrumentation of woodwind, drums, keys, vibraphone, acoustic bass, and accordion allows plenty of space and sonic separation to navigate a wide range of styles. With Hollenbeck holding the rhythm section down, the main solo instruments interact effortlessly. According to the band, the instrumentation and chemistry among the players fell together naturally.

“I really enjoy the textures you can make with those three instruments,” says the bandleader. “I was in N.Y. for many years trying to put something together on my own, thinking of different combinations that I hadn’t heard before, orchestration-wise. I met the bass player, then the accordion player. It took a few years. It really was about meeting the right people. It’s a unique combination of people and instruments.”

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