The drummer John Hollenbeck, who writes all the music for the Claudia Quintet, is prolific enough with his output to understand that theres often freedom in restriction. September, the groups inspired new album, gets its name from his custom of composing new work in seclusion at artist retreats, typically during that month; each of its 10 pieces bears a date, indicating either a moment of inception or completion.
That sounds schematic, but its really a loose framework, a way of organizing thoughts and ideas. The instrumentation of the Claudia Quintet has remained constant since it formed in the late 1990s, so Hollenbeck knows the palette hes working with. Along with the tenor saxophonist and clarinetist Chris Speed and the vibraphonist Matt Moran, his lineup now includes Red Wierenga on accordion and either Drew Gress or Chris Tordini on bass. Its a crew ready for any kind of chamberesque or open-ended maneuvers he prescribes.
The oldest and most gorgeously melancholy theme here is 12th Coping Song, a secular hymn inspired by Sept. 11, 2001, that closes the album. At the other end of the spectrum is the opener, 20th Soterius Lakshmi, which has the staccato syncopations of a news radio theme, and a title puckishly borrowed from the names of two NPR newscasters. (Soterios Johnson probably sees that misspelling a lot.)
Somehow the bouquet of timbres that Claudia Quintet presents hasnt lost its freshness: the slow dawn of 25th Somber Blanket, with accordion and clarinet prominent in the mix, represents a proven strategy for the band. 18th Lemons feels familiar too, at least in the minimalist rhythmic pattern that breezes through most of the tune.
On the Claudia Quintets previous album, What Is the Beautiful? (Cuneiform), the ensemble worked with Kenneth Patchens poetry. Here theres a perversely arresting track called 29th, 1936 Me Warn You, which samples the main passage of Franklin D. Roosevelts smooth evasion speech a gem of withering sarcasm, at the expense of his opposing party and redraws it in cubist fashion. This goes on for more than 10 minutes, and the premise feels exhausted maybe halfway through. But then comes an intoxicating series of chords, illuminating the text in strange new ways: a composers sleight of hand, executed with the lightest touch.
New York Times