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Album review: Claudia Quintet's 'Royal Toast'

Claudia_quintet_royal_  A year removed from an unexpected (yet wholly deserved) Grammy nomination in the large ensemble category, jazz drummer and composer John Hollenbeck returns to what ostensibly makes up his day job.

Under Hollenbeck’s complex yet always inviting compositional lead, the Claudia Quintet’s fifth album continues the group’s moving-target aesthetic. Touching on enough influences to resemble an expertly curated corner record shop — a thicket of Steve Reich-informed vibraphone here, a dash of knotty chamber jazz there — the Claudia Quintet is one of the more adventurous jazz ensembles working today. Often built around the unique harmonic interplay of saxophonist-clarinetist Chris Speed and accordionist Ted Reichman (who quickly dispatches just about any stereotype listeners could have about his instrument), the group is also joined by guest pianist Gary Versace, who adds new shading with the elegantly atmospheric “Crane Merit” and “Keramag,” which finds the quintet dancing circles around Hollenbeck’s restless rhythm.

Frequently mining a trebly, contemplative territory, the album can initially feel somewhat monochromatic, but unexpected pleasures lie below the surface. “Paterna Terra” rises out of wild, electro-junkyard percussion from Hollenbeck that approaches drum-and-bass, only to have an expressive saxophone solo from Speed spur the band into a joyful race toward the finish.

Rich with ambition and empathetic interplay that never allows one player to rise above any other for long, the Claudia Quintet doesn’t entirely sound like anybody else. Which is exactly what makes them worth seeking out.

— Chris Barton

Claudia Quintet
“Royal Toast”
Cuneiform
Three Stars (Out of four stars)


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