John Hollenbeck has fashioned his share of attention-grabbing tunes, but few as compelling as “September 29th, 1936: Me Warn You,” a highlight of the Claudia Quintet’s shiveringly good new album. A mash-up of reflective music and sonically sliced and diced excerpts from a Franklin D. Roosevelt speech, it basks in the president’s sarcasm in blowing off the opposition for pretending to back his New Deal programs and claiming, “We will do them better.” With ad nauseam repetitions of phrases like that, the piece can drive you to distraction, but through its coiled minimalism and the lucid counter-voices of Matt Moran’s vibes and Chris Speed’s saxophone, the music wins us over by powerfully claiming the human voice as an instrument of its own.
September, strung loosely on the memories and sensations that various days in the month conjure for Hollenbeck, is elsewhere awash in gentler emotion. New accordionist Red Wierenga adds to the tapestry-like richness of the music on such tunes as “September 12th: Coping Song,” which affectingly recalls the aftermath of 9/11, and “September 17th: Loop Piece,” on which Hollenbeck the drummer is at his most lyrical.
The Claudia Quintet could once sound a bit soft and mannered. But there is nary such a moment here, not with the pronounced, throbbing bass of Drew Gress (or, on four cuts, Chris Tordini) riding over the cool currents and asserting its soulful authority. Hollenbeck’s subtle absorption of ethnic sounds including Indian and Brazilian further adds to the stylistic depth of the album, which for all its artful texture is one of his most forceful and immediate efforts.