Unlike most jazz composers, who essentially write for their bands, Hollenback works like a classical composer, writing pieces on commission. Five of the six pieces on Eternal Interlude were commissions, and the pieces he'll bring to Boston were written as a commission for his proposal to the Doris Duke Foundation's Chamber Music America program for the Claudia Quintet + 1, with pianist Gary Versace.
But that's a special circumstance, he says. In most cases, the commissioned composer is "like an architect, and you have a client." The commissioning agency might determine the length and instrumentation of a piece for a specific program, even in one case a title. "Sometimes people just say, 'I really like that piece you wrote; write another.' But I don't mind at all someone giving me all that information. The title is a bit much! But it's great to know what kind of program it's going to be played in, where it's going to be played, who's going to play it. There are fewer decisions that you have to make, because they've been made for you. But it can also help you make decisions."
So "Foreign One" was on a program of Monk pieces for the Scottish National Jazz Ensemble. "I took it a little too far. It was supposed to be an arrangement of the tune, and at first the actual tune wasn't there at all. I took the piece and kind of dissected it so much that it became its own piece — what some people would call recomposition."
"Foreign One" and "Perseverance" were written for jazz ensembles, but "Eternal Interlude" was written for a wind ensemble without much experience at improvising. Which is okay with Hollenbeck. A former student of composer and trombonist Bob Brookmeyer, he's happy to write for soloists or not. As the drummer in Brookmeyer's big band, he's used to playing pieces with no improvised solos at all. Brookmeyer's general dictum, says Hollenbeck, is that "you keep writing and writing and writing until you come to the point where there has to be a solo."
He continues, "I think that after years of listening to jazz where it's very clear where the written part is and the improvised part, I'm just trying to get away from that. To me, when you don't know as a listener whether it's improvised or composed, that's a fun place to be."
ABSTRACT TRUTH Like action painters, Rempis (right) and Rosaly understand the relationship of mark to ground.
"Paint is paint." That's what I told myself as Dave Rempis was propelling big swaths of sound out of his baritone sax at the Lily Pad a week ago Wednesday. The Chicago-based Rempis — who usually shows up in these parts in the Ken Vandermark 5 — was in the midst of a two-week tour with drummer Frank Rosaly in support of their new Cyrillic (482 Music). The CD is divided into seven discrete tunes, the longest 16 minutes, but at the Lily their first "tune" was 40 minutes without a break. They kicked off with Rempis on alto, an upward melodic gesture of long tones against a fast free pulse from Rosaly — dry, snares off, and only spare cymbal splashes here and there. Rempis whipped up thicker, long clusters of notes riding atop Rosaly and then broke down into shorter fragmentary phrases, and Rosaly thinned out into clatters along his rims and cymbal edges. Rempis dropped out and Rosaly clattered along — not too loud, still nice and dry. Then Rempis broke out his bari and established a five-note rhythmic motive, moving it around on the big horn, from a deep middle register and then up toward altissimo with broad clotted gestures.