Claudia Quintet’s John Hollenbeck on Discovering Kenneth Patchen and Finding Homes for His Works
December 17, 2011 § Leave a comment
Celebrating their 15th anniversary in 2012, Claudia Quintet embraces the textural freedom of electronic sounds and improvisation, the structural ambition of contemporary classical music, and most importantly, the joy of bodacious grooves and unapologetically gorgeous melodies. Led by drummer and composer John Hollenbeck, this ensemble features some of the foremost innovators of new sounds in “jazz and beyond.” Their beautifully seductive work recasts jazz in shimmering new shapes with inflections of classical minimalism, new music, progressive rock and post-rock. Claudia Quintet’s latest release, What Is The Beautiful?, featuring special guest vocalists Kurt Elling & Theo Bleckmann, is a tribute to the late beat poet and visual artist Kenneth Patchen, commissioned by the University of Rochester on the occasion of his 100th birthday.
How’d it come to be that these folks in Rochester enlisted you to make an album around Patchen’s work? How did they find you, or you them? What had been your knowledge of/relationship with Patchen’s work prior to that?
I got a call from Richard Peek at the University of Rochester library who told me that for Kenneth Patchen’s 100th birthday they were doing an exhibition of his verbal & visual work—paintings and drawings, covers for records, books. Turns out there’s a patron of the University who’s a jazz lover and was keen to fund a recording of some kind. So they asked me if I wanted to get involved, and I thought it would be a really interesting project for the Claudia Quintet, so I went for it. I started working about a year ago, over the holidays. I couldn’t find any Kenneth Patchen books in the bookstores, so I went to the library filled up on everything he did; there’s also a good biography out there, and that helped. When I found something that hit, I’d write that down, and I ended up with a list of 20 or so poems. His work varied but there were at least five genres that he was working in, and I take a cross-section of those. That’s how it started coming together.
What in particular are the challenges in setting poetry to music? Did you work with Theo & Kurt on the compositional side, or did you compose alone then hand them the music & let them work magic in their singing of it?