It seems like half of New York's downtown jazz scene has dabbled in electronica these past few years, with varying results: drummer Jim Black's adaptation of jungle rhythms was uncanny; trumpeter Graham Haynes's use of frosty synth washes was not so gripping. The Claudia Quintet is one of several groups led by drummer John Hollenbeck (sideman to everyone from new-music stalwart Meredith Monk to big-band leader Bob Brookmeyer to edgy trumpeter Cuong Vu); the graceful, slow-moving melodies he writes create bristling tension with his hyperactive drum 'n' bass-derived rhythms. Not original, but the quintet pulls it off with a rare economy and polyrhythmic sophistication. What really sets the group apart, though, is its gorgeous instrumental palette. On the group's eponymous debut album for Blueshift, the jazz-oriented imprint of the classical label CRI, bassist Drew Gress undergirds Hollenbeck's complex grid with interlocking grooves and low-end heft while the front line takes the timbral breakthroughs of the Modern Jazz Quartet into a new century. Vibist Matt Moran, accordionist Ted Reichman, and reedist Chris Speed create a unified sound that's by turns warm and cold, shimmery and weighty, glassy and marbled. The trio is heard to particularly striking effect on the haunting, Morton Feldman-esque "Thursday 11:14 AM (Grey)," where the components separate and coalesce in gentle, minimal waves while Hollenbeck sketches delicate commentary. For this gig, the group's Chicago debut, bassist Chris Dahlgren fills in for Gress. Wednesday, April 3, 7 PM, Claudia Cassidy Theater, Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington; 312-744-6630.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Steve Johnson.