Album Review: The Claudia Quintet – Royal Toast

May 18, 2010

Concept: Update from another group of “post”-jazz sweethearts led by a percussionist composer (John Hollenbeck) and welcoming a guest member onto the album (pianist Gary Versace).

Sound: The titular piece (here performed without Versace) is beyond my full comprehension. Not only are there so many goofy syncopations around that I could not determine the initial meter independently, but I find it almost impossible to accept as the above video’s poster claims that its A section is plain old 4/4. I mean, if that thing doesn’t have alternations of 6/4 poking about in it, put me in a straightjacket. Then, before you know it, you’re somehow in 10/4. The Quintet’s members are magicians of transition. They draw the ear away from theme and rhythm, and slide in substitutes part by part. None of the pieces include a self-indulgent collapse, however. There is a co-orientation rather than chaos between them. They are carefully committed to simultaneously straying only so far from each other and no further, as if emulating tensegrity or imitating the reflexivity of improvisation. It’s an elucidation of free jazz, a conversion of free jazz’ supposed explorations to compositional technique. They’re definitely on to something. The downside is that whatever they’re doing and whatever it means can’t really be understood and thereby appreciated by the majority of us listeners just scrounging around in our leisure time, myself included. We can only hope to enjoy this stuff. While The Claudia Quintet’s masterful control and subtle use of dynamic makes their fluid experimentation more palatable, the baths of crunched rapid-fire polyrhythm and syncopation which extend through many of the pieces could be too distracting for anyone unaccustomed to such things. This is probably the best introduction to their work, though, with several uncharacteristically soft pieces that highlight the bands’ intuition over their calculation.

Lyrics: None

Quick And Dirty: As tempered and presentable as technical innovation gets. (♦♦♦♦½)

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