John Hollenbeck -Theo Bleckmann, Kate McGarry, Gary Versace And The Frankfurt Radio Big Band:
Songs You Like A Lot (Flexatonic Records – August 14th 2020)
John Hollenbeck (composer, arranger, conductor)
Theo Bleckmann, Kate McGarry (vo), Gary Versace (p, org),
The Frankfurt Radio Big Band (HR Big Band)
1.Down To The River To Pray (Folk Song) 6:43;
2.Blue (Joni Mitchell) 7:26;
3.How Deep Is Your Love (Barry/ Maurice/Robin Gibb) 8:23
4.Fire And Rain (James Taylor) 8:26
5.Don’t Give Up (Peter Gabriel) 8:51
6.Kindness (Music: J.Hollenbeck, Words: Naomi Shihab) 6:20
7.Pure Imagination (Leslie Bricusse/ Anthony Newley) 10:47
8.Knows Only God (God Only Knows)(Brian Wilson/ Tony Asher) 6:23
John Hollenbeck is an interesting musician that I admire. He is a drummer, composer, arrangement writer and orchestra conductor born in New York, Binghampton, in 1968. He worked with Bob Brookmeyer, Kenny Wheeler, Fred Hersch, Tony Malabi, The Village Vanguard Orchestra, Pablo Ziegler and Meredith Monk in New York in the beginning of the 1990s after graduating from Eastman Music School. He composed pieces for wind instruments and choirs after 1998. His work has been performed in classical music festivals. His recordings with The Claudia Quintet, Quartet Lucy, Jazz Big Band Graz and Theo Bleckmann along with his work with Large Ensemble, which he founded in 1998, placed him firmly in the modern jazz circles. He became a drumming professor at Berlin Jazz Institute between 2005-2016. He joined the academic staff at McGill University’s Music School.
“Songs You Like A Lot” is the final part of the “Songs” trilogy. The first part was “Songs I Like A Lot”, released in 2013 with Large Ensemble and the second one was “Songs We Like A Lot” which he released with The Frankfurt Radio Big Band. These three albums feature popular songs of the past with the richness and the advantages of the big band in a contemporary sense. Nuanced arrangements are his rebellion against the concept of popularity in a sense. These songs were beautiful and loved in the past and they should be remembered in a different way with their lyrics and melodies. First class vocals of German singer Theo Bleckmann and Kate McGarry demonstrate what these songs can achieve.
The album starts with an old folk song called “Down To The River To Pray”. Bassist Hans Glawischnig, guitarist Martin Scales and guest pianist Gary Versace bring this piece to the realm of jazz with their solos.
Joni Mitchell’s Grammy Award winning 1971 piece “Blue” feature the solos of clarinet player Oliver Leicht and organ player Gary Versace.
Another pop song that passes through Hollenbeck’s sieve is Bee Gees’s popular 1977 ballad: “How Deep Is Your Love”. We hear the solo of Steffen Weber on the tenor saxophone.
Hollenbeck saw it a necessity to include James Taylor’s song “Fire And Rain” in the album and expressed his love for it sincerely with a modern arrangement.
Hollenbeck’s art as an arrangement writer shines with his exciting interpretation of Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush’s 1986 hit “Don’t Give Up”. This interpretation features Axel Schlosser on the trumpet, Theo Bleckmann and Kate McGarry on the vocals and Frankfurt Radio Big Band conducted by John Hollenbeck.
The only Hollenbeck composition in the album is titled “Kindness”. Naomi Shihab wrote the lyrics of this modern piece, which is reminiscent of the musical songs of Kurt Weill. It is lovely to hear Ben Kraef and Steffen Weber on the tenor saxophones, and Theo Bleckmann and Kate McGarry on the vocals again.
Hollenbeck thinks “Pure Imagination”, written by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley’ for the 1971 movie “Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory”. Theo Bleckmann shoulders the vocals of the 2020 interpretation of the song, originally sung by Gene Wilder in the movie. The piano solo is performed by Gary Versace.
“Songs You Lile A Lot” album draws to a close with an avant-garde interpretation of the 1966 hit “God Only Knows” by Beach Boys. This famous song, written by Brian Wilson-Tony Asher, is renamed “Knowns Only God” by Hollenbeck, who shakes the piece and turns it upside down. The piece features drummer Paul Höchstaedter, vocalists Theo Bleckmann and Kate McGarry who use their voices like instruments, and the Frankfurt Radio Big Band conducted by Hollenbeck.
The album is nominated for the “Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album” award in the 63rd Grammy Music Awards in 2021. I wouldn’t be surprised if it wins…