John Hollenbeck is a drummer, composer, and arranger whose sensibility is now so unique and thoughtfully developed that it occupies its own niche in music. Hollenbeck is a brilliant student of big band arranging, yet he also leverages an interest in classical music so that his “large ensemble” charts seem to shimmer with (Philip) Glass-ian dazzle.
The collection starts with a track of utter bliss: a rethinking of Jimmy Webb’s famous “Wichita Lineman”, featuring both Hollenbeck’s regular vocalist, Theo Bleckmann, and Kate McGarry. Hollenbeck sets the woodwinds of the Frankfurt Radio Big Band into a quavering set of patterns that burble with minimalist beauty before McGarry states the first verse accompanied by rhythm and pianist Gary Versace. Patterns fill the song between verses like woven silk. After Bleckmann’s verse, the patterns grow more complex, with Hollenbeck’s mallet percussion setting up a stuttering pattern and a guitar restating the melody in half-time, with the melody eventually doubled by wordless vocals and horns, even as the brass sets down a bed of shifting chords. In its final minutes, the arrangement essentially cuts itself loose of its source and floats off into bliss.
This tune is so inventively beautiful, so unlike any other jazz or pop or classical music you can hear elsewhere—it sets the bar so high that the rest of Songs I Like A Lot is playing continual catch up. But it mostly does keep up.
Read the entire review here: John Hollenbeck: Songs I Like a Lot