John Hollenbeck: Rainbow Jimmies

Not all drummers make great composers—in jazz circles, Tony Williams, Peter Erskine, and Jack DeJohnette come to mind as legitimate candidates—but, based on his collection of ‘chamber' works, Rainbow Jimmies, John Hollenbeck clearly deserves membership in the club. The sixty-five-minute collection showcases his compositional prowess primarily, though his playing chops get a workout in a couple of places too. Hollenbeck's own outfit, the Claudia Quintet, appears but so too do violinist Todd Reynolds, the Ethos Percussion Group, and Youngstown Percussion Collective, plus Bang on a Can All Star Mark Stewart adds electric guitar to the title track.

Conceived by Hollenbeck as a series of settings designed to explore the violin's limits, “Gray Cottage” (which Hollenbeck composed for classical violinist Todd Reynolds) moves through seven meditative “studies” scored for vibraphone (played by Claudia Quintet member Matt Moran), drum kit, and violin (some studies vibes and violin only) that range in mood from wistful (“Lost in Fog”) and bittersweet (“Dustish”) to lively (“Jazz Hands”) and spectral (“Tax Penalty Payment Approaching”), many of them evocative reveries that call to mind the Adirondack Mountains setting where the piece was composed. The Claudia Quintet—Drew Gress (bass), Moran (vibes), Chris Speed (clarinet/tenor sax), Ted Reichman (accordion/organ), and Hollenbeck (drums)—rides the intricate time changes of “Sininari (Acoustic Remix),” a jazzy arrangement of a popular Turkish song, with lustful aplomb.

“Ziggurat (Exterior)” and “Ziggurat (Interior)” follow with an ambitious but overlong twenty-five-minute setting split between renderings by the Youngstown Percussion Collective and Saxophone Quartet (version one) and Ethos Percussion Group (version two). Lacking the taut precision of “Sininari (Acoustic Remix),” “Ziggurat (Exterior)” is less easy to embrace in its primal, loose-limbed meander though it's helped considerably by the presence of the saxophonists; “Ziggurat (Interior)” proves even more uncompromising in restricting itself wholly to the exotic, Eastern-influenced of its percussive design (a bit of Reich-styled minimalism works its way in towards the end too). Though it too is overlong, the episodic title track does allow for some satisfying interplay between Speed's clarinet, Reichman's organ, Moran's vibes, and, of course, Stewart's guitar. What ultimately recommends the recording is the diversity of its compositional approaches and the instrumental configurations that bring the four pieces to life, and what enlivens Rainbow Jimmies is the playful exuberance Hollenbeck and company bring to his melodic settings, many of which reveal jazz and classical influences in their construction.

January 2010