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John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble: All Can Work (New Amsterdam)

Review of album by big band leader who pays tribute to mentors, friends and colleagues who have passed

Cover of John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble album All Can Work
Cover of John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble album All Can Work

Drummer-composer John Hollenbeck has for 20 years excelled at writing music that balances oddness and sublimity. But it’s never had quite the overtly personal dimension that it does on All Can Work, an homage to Hollenbeck’s departed friends, colleagues, mentors and influences, performed by his 20-piece Large Ensemble. It’s also never been more beautiful.

The sweeping title track encompasses all of those attributes, from beauty to strangeness to soul-baring. Hollenbeck’s tribute to the Ensemble’s late trumpeter Laurie Frink takes her emails to the composer as its lyrics; it turns out to be a mosaic of mundanities—“OK fine,” “Cool,” “Doesn’t matter”—set against sweet reeds and soaring horns. But that just enhances the emotional payload. The finale finds Theo Bleckmann singing, repeating and fragmenting, with increasingly operatic accompaniment, “I will miss you all, and especially the music.”

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