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John Hollenbeck & Jazz Bigband Graz: Joys & Desires

Horst-Michael Schaffer, John Hollenbeck and Heinrich von Kalnein

First things first: Graz does not rhyme with jazz; it’s the Austrian city that helps to subsidize the Bigband. Coleaders Horst-Michael Schaffer and Heinrich von Kalnein as well as trombonist Ed Neumeister are music-faculty colleagues at Graz University, and they’ve worked frequently with American drummer John Hollenbeck, whose brilliant but elusive mind concocted this brilliant but elusive project.

The ever-inquisitive art of Hollenbeck, who wrote all the charts, makes incredible demands on the Bigband, and there are surprisingly few solo statements. The accent is on free expression, frequent tempo changes, minimalism that’s reminiscent of John Adams, fascinating contrapuntal lines and, above all, unison phrases. So much of the latter, the sections can brag about their intonation; the brass in particular are right on target. All of those elements come together in the longest track, “Abstinence.” It requires patient listening, but it’s worth it. Forget about Theo Bleckmann’s vocals or recitations. They just can’t compete with massed sonorities.

Originally Published