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JazzTimes 10: The Composing Drummer (or the Drumming Composer)

A tentet of works by players who are as mighty with the pen as they are with the sticks

5. John Hollenbeck: “The Cloud of Unknowing” (The Claudia Quintet, I, Claudia, Cuneiform, 2004)

Though named for a medieval Christian text, “The Cloud of Unknowing” shares closer ties to Pachelbel’s Canon. It begins with a simple, plaintive melody (played by accordionist Ted Reichman), adds an equally simple countermelody (also played by Bachman), then layers on a more elaborate third melody (played by clarinetist Chris Speed) and a fourth (first by vibraphonist Matt Moran, then doubled by bassist Drew Gress). It’s almost halfway through before Hollenbeck’s dulcet drumming comes in, and two-thirds through before there’s a chord change. Fragile, thoughtful, incredibly catchy, and not exactly standard jazz fare, the piece is a solid if unconventional demonstration of why Hollenbeck is currently one of the most celebrated jazz composers at work.

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Originally Published

Michael J. West

Michael J. West is a jazz journalist in Washington, D.C. In addition to his work on the national and international jazz scenes, he has been covering D.C.’s local jazz community since 2009. He is also a freelance writer, editor, and proofreader, and as such spends most days either hunkered down at a screen or inside his very big headphones. He lives in Washington with his wife and two children.