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Claudia Quintet + 1 — What Is the Beautiful?
(Cuneiform Rune 327, 2011, CD)

by Paul Hightower, Published 2013-04-01

What Is the Beautiful? Cover art

NYC-based Claudia Quintet have wasted no time following up on their critically acclaimed 2010 release, Royal Toast. This time out drummer John Hollenbeck and crew pay tribute to American poet, artist, and composer Kenneth Patchen with an ambitious and varied collection of compositions. The most striking innovation in the group's sound is revealed quickly on the opening track, "Showtime," with renowned jazz vocalist Kurt Elling reciting Patchen's beat poetry against bassist Drew Gress's melodic lines. Elling trades off on the microphone with vocalist Theo Bleckmann, for the most part delivering spoken word recitations though occasionally crooning the text, as seen on the delicate and wistful "The Snow Is Deep on the Ground." For the most part the arrangements are replete with thorny harmonic constructs that lack the instant appeal of much of Royal Toast. But for the listener who can stomach the sort of angularity and dissonance on display in tracks like "Mates for Life" or "Opening the Window," the rewards are plentiful. Guest pianist Matt Mitchell is a good fit for the material, whether he's providing accompaniment for the poetry of "Do Me That Love," or delving into abstract expressionism on "Limpidity of Silences." On the whole, the entire ensemble (which also includes vibraphonist Matt Moran, tenor player Chris Speed, and accordionist Ted Reichman) continues to display the intelligence and unity that have characterized previous releases. And although I'd characterize this record as "head jazz" the songs make an appeal to the soul that only the best art can.

Filed under: New releases, Issue 40, 2011 releases

Related artist(s): The Claudia Quintet

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