— Eric Hofbauer (@EricHofbauer) July 11, 2014
CLIP #1: “A Kiss Of The Earth” – “Procession Of The Oldest And Wisest One”
CLIP #2: “The Kiss Of The Earth” – “The Exalted Sacrifice”
CLIP #3: “Mystic Circle Of The Young Girls” – “Sacrificial Dance”
I am very lucky to have some of my playing documented from the tour. I have added two clips that were shot by my good friend and exquisite drummer extraordinaire Curt Newton (fellow member of the Eric Hofbuaer Quintet – Prehistoric Jazz project). It is from the Boston show at the Lily Pad on Sept 18th. I played straight through, a 45 minute solo set, improvising from one place to another, hitting various themes and tunes along the way. Video #1 features Dear Prudence (The Beatles) into West End Blues (Joe Oliver) into Dewey Square (Charlie Parker). Video #2 features a tune of mine, Pocket Chops into the folk tune by Blind Willie Johnson, God Moves On The Water.
I was also lucky to get some print attention while on tour as well with some great preview and review articles in outlets such as The Village Voice, The Chicago Reader and Fuse Jazz Review. I have posted a few quotes and links to the complete articles. My next goal for the solo tour is to take it out to the west coast in the spring… time to start booking!!! A profound THANK YOU! to all who came out to see my shows, buy CDs, and support the music.
“An enthusiastic and attentive audience showed up at the Boston area stop of our own Eric Hofbauer 8/18 at the Lily Pad during his tour of the Northeast and Midwest. Being attentive was the smart thing to do, whether one focusses on Eric’s remarkable technical prowess or the far more remarkable music he makes. Being a Hofbauer guitar fan, I have witnessed his solo work several times over the years and always with great pleasure. This certainly was his most impressive outing.” – Boston Jazz Scene (full review)
“There’s something deceptive about the informality the Boston guitarist brings to his solo work: On the recent American Grace he makes dabbling a fine art.” – Jim Macnie, Village Voice (full preview)
“Hofbauer is a terrific player, treating original tunes, jazz standards, modern pop-rock songs, and blues with a distinctive touch; gnarled, melodic, spikey, and dense. There’s a deep affection for the material inherent in his interpretations, and that familiarity and ease allows him to take some of the tunes to surprising places.” – Peter Margasak, The Chicago Reader (full preview)
“Eric Hofbauer doesn’t play his big hollow-bodied Guild guitar very loud — at least not by today’s standards — but few people get more sheer guitar sound out of their instruments.” – Jon Garelick, The Fuse Jazz Review (full review)
The concert title was taken from a video clip of Leonard Bernstein conducting a studio orchestra from the 1980s. In it he gently chastises one of the percussionists for not playing with the proper feeling. He refers to ‘The Rite’ as prehistoric jazz and then implores the student to play with that type of emotion… ‘I don’t feel the jazz… man’ Bernstein exclaims.
For me, feeling ‘the jazz’ was my primary point of reference and my entre into this masterwork of shifting rhythms and polytonality back when I first heard it as a student. Maybe it was all those nights at Oberlin where I slept with the score under my pillow so it was the first thing I looked at when the day began and the last thing at its end. Maybe, during those same student years, it was the lucid dreams I had in the library (usually after a far too heavy dinner) where the opening Bassoon line turned into phrases in French, for some reason, and the rest of the opening winds were a chorus of other languages, some real some fictional. Regardless, I always approached it as a piece with powerful pulse, surprising syncopation and harmonies I translated in my mind to jazz theory lexicon. In short, I always heard ‘The Rite’ as jazz… just without the improvisation.
I am not alone as a jazz musician enchanted and bedeviled by Stravinsky’s works. For decades jazz musicians have quoted from and attempted to adapt Igor’s works, especially ‘The Rite’ for various ensembles (most recently The Bad Plus and The Mobtown Modern Big Band). For a very detailed account of the history between jazz and Stravinsky and various ‘third stream’ attempts to reconcile both traditions, please read Stu Vandermark’s excellent blog about my ‘Prehistoric-Jazz’ concert.
In working on my conception of ‘The Rite’ I chose not to get caught up in the history, the past and recent attempts at ‘jazz interpretation’, the semantics of style or genre. I went with my intuition, and my ear… and after hearing Lenny call ‘The Rite’ prehistoric jazz; I had the validated confidence to begin my arrangement.
It is my general conclusion that most of the sections of ‘The Rite’ begin with a clear melody and a distinct combination of pulse, rhythm and harmony, which all start to unravel or become obfuscated by theme and variation, increased density, orchestration etc. That’s all nothing new, of course, but that structure is also the foundation of jazz once you add improvisation to the list of deconstructing elements. With this in mind, most sections to my ears became a sort of lead sheet where at some point a collective theme and variation (riffing to an extent) took over, usually over a strong pulse or vamp. Case in point, the first section, A Kiss Of The Earth. After the iconic Bassoon opening with a small wind chorus of support, the strings enter with an almost inebriated triplet line that acts as a riff or vamp that establishes a clear pulse. Once that is steady, the theme and variation, riffing, and increased density begins. A few main themes pop out, but most parts play the roll of adding voices to a big collective conversation. This moment, I thought, could be improvised with similar effect. So with all sections I set about the task of distilling it down to the main theme or themes, the prominent harmonic colors and perhaps most importantly the primary rhythmic structures. Stravinsky loves pulse and it always grooves in its own way, always syncopated, always surprising with odd phrase lengths and shifting meters. But… what happens if you take the primary rhythmic figures, which is the core of the groove, and even them out to phrases that repeat with more regularity? Vamps, bass lines, rhythmic shouts choruses, even forms (for example the 12 bar blues on Mystic Circle Of The Young Girls which was not imposed by my hand but directed to me by Igor’s melody and harmonic suggestions) rise to the surface as solo or group improvisation sections.
The same spirit of distillation behind the melodic and formal conceptions inspired the orchestration for my arrangement. Each family of the orchestra was represented. The drums covered the percussion, cello covered the strings, and clarinet and trumpet covered the woodwinds and brass respectively. The guitar plays a curious role in the arrangement. Like much of my group work either as a composer or performer the purpose of the guitar is to highlight, support and glue together various aspects of the music. By not fitting into a specific family of orchestral instruments I play the role of rogue interloper, assimilating into each family when they need an extra voice, or gluing components together by providing a rich harmonic palette of chords. This I believe is a very American thing to do with the music, and the arch top guitar, a completely American invention, is crucial to transforming ‘The Rite’ to prehistoric jazz in sound and style. You will notice, there is rarely a guitar melody or feature or solo, the bulk of the guitar work is teaming up with drums for hits, joining the cello on a vamp, providing a bass line and chords for a horn solo etc.
Speaking of chords, Stravinsky’s works are known for being extremely dissonant, polytonal, chromatic… chaotic, crazy etc. Yet, I found it logical, almost easy, how his harmonic palette could be defined in jazz harmonic theory terms. For example the famous pounding chords in ‘Dance Of The Adolescents’, the much revered Eb7 over E major cluster has for 100 years been an example of extreme dissonance and an abandonment of tonality. My jazz training suggests to me a different story. What if the E major is the tri-tone sub of Bb (a common jazz chord substitution since the bebop days of the 40’s) and like the blues or Thelonious Monk, Igor is treating the Eb7 as a tonic. It is then just a common V-I progression but simultaneously. Maybe what Stravinsky is suggesting in this moment is not the end of tonality but the beginning of a new understanding of tonality… where tonic and dominant, rest and motion, consonance and dissonance are ONE. Bernstein took that view of Stravinsky in his Norton lectures at Harvard, calling his work, ‘the poetry of earth’ hinting that the balanced duality of Stravinsky’s poly-tonal language (Lenny defined Ives by this ‘poetry of earth’ term too) was a natural progression of music and therefore expressed more humanity than serial 12-tone music (those are fighin’ words to some). I digress… however, the point remains ‘The Rite’ is full of harmonic moments that translate to ‘jazz chords’. I found flat 9th, sharp #11, minor 9th chords, tri-tone substitutions, pentatonic scale melodies played over modal harmony. Sometimes this stuff was layered on top of one another, more obfuscation, but often it is possible to pick it up by ear and hear the lingua franca between Igor’s chords and historic jazz languages such as Swing, Bebop, Modal and even Post-Modal. For advanced jazz geeks there are hints of the so-called ‘Giant Steps’ changes (presented poly-tonally) and, for those who study guitar and composition with me, there are a plethora of examples of ‘The Diamond’ (my own harmonic theory of chord substitution and poly-tonal improvising in jazz, synthesized in part from Bartok’s Axis System, Coltrane changes, which weren’t his originally anyway, and other sources) on display in ‘The Rite’.
I could go on and on about this piece and my arrangement… Things I have left out, a discussion on the use of space, the role of timbre and articulation in transforming it to the jazz language and the importance of synthesis, deconstruction and the use of all the jazz vocabularies (including the Post-Bop aka Free Jazz vocab) to successfully evolve ‘Le Sacre’ a European masterpiece to ‘The Rite’ a piece of American music with room for personal expression, malleable interpretation and surprising spontaneity.
The last thing I need to say is that this project wouldn’t be possible without the creative energy and work of the musicians involved. The band members, Todd Brunel on clarinet and bass clarinet, Junko Fujiwara on cello, Curt Newton on drums and Jerry Sabatini on trumpet were chosen not only for their expertise in the realms of improvisation and classical/jazz knowledge but for their individual voices, their nuances, their personality quirks that manifested themselves in sound and imbued my arrangement with authenticity and life. We had time for only three, 2 hour, rehearsals to put this together for the performance. Everyone brought passion and inspiration to the table, we worked hard but had fun too and I think it shows in the video.
Several people has asked me, how I could possibly of had the time to arrange ‘The Rite’ all 14 sections to be exact, between the end of the spring semester (where usually I can’t compose or arrange anything because the ol’ creative juices are diverted towards teaching) and May 29th. Truth be told it only took 20 hours to complete the arrangement, about half of that was brainstorming, listening and sketching… other half was the writing out (spread out in two all-nighters). However, I would argue this arrangement, this project in fact, was 20 years in the making, ever since I first heard ‘Le Sacre Du Printemps’ in the Oberlin library. I hope you truly enjoy the videos. Comments and reactions welcome and if you are a music teacher, department head, concert promoter etc. and would like to had us come play at your school, college or venue, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org We are excited to share this music experience to audiences around the world online… but we would really love to share it with audiences live.
I suppose what really is happening every morning is an example of faith. I was a double degree student at Oberlin, Jazz and Religion (until I realized I was being redundant), so matters of the spirit have always been central to my personal and artistic missions. The idea of faith in a biblical sense always seemed too distant to me, Job, Abraham and the other Old Testament characters have this weight of the ages, the dust of mythology that disconnects them from much of modern life. In fact, I would argue that modernity prefers ‘blind faith’ in lieu of real faith because it is easy, quick and ready to package and sell.
The very essence of faith for me is the freedom to doubt, to question, to risk not believing in what you have spent your life persuing. To have nakedly faced those choices and risk entropy and still continue on the hard path… Let me tell you my brothers and sisters, weather its dealing with an ailment, the loss of a loved one, struggles with career (in my case the perils of the modern ‘jazz’ career) etc., that is FAITH.
So, each morning I awake and think ‘is this the day I walk away from it all’ and everyday I pass the test and continue on, through the lack of gigs or teaching opportunities, the financial struggles, the failure to get that job, gig, tour, review, grant, big chance to share my passion for music with anyone who will listen.
However, along the way, there are these experiences that just vibrate with faith and validate completely everything in my life up to that moment.
Case is point. December 19th the night of the memorial concert here in Boston for John Tchicai. I was blessed to befriend John through Garrison Fewell. I was lucky to perform with John in Garrison’s Variable Density Sound Orchestra a few times in NYC and Boston. We all had some memorable musical exchanges as well as some classic conversations accompanied by good food and even better wine.
The week before the concert was shocking, my dear friend and six-string intergalactic sonic soul mate, Garrison was diagnosed with cancer and admitted to the hospital for surgery. This was after several days of severe pain, including one Sunday where we all (Garrison, Todd Brunel, Jerry Sabatini, Curt Newton, Jacob William, Charlie Kohlhase was in absentia, and myself) were rehearsing for the concert. Garrison played through the pain, in fact the music seemed to numb it, at least for the few hours we were working. In this regard, I believe (being a Pythagorean, and somewhat of a mystic in my spare time) music has potential healing properties; that in fact music is an energy (vibrations… its science look it up) that can be used for good or evil. Three thousand years of trance music (from whirling Dervishes, to Gregorian monks, to Coltrane and Sun Ra) can’t be wrong. All music has power and it always has, we just forget it from time to time.
Ultimately we had to play the concert without the bandleader, but we all rose to the call of the spirit and played from a deep and personal place. A wonderful thing happened that night, as we played this amazing music by our departed friend John Tchicai it was clear that it was a celebration OF a life in music well lived. However, more importantly it became evident that the music was FOR Garrison. The dead don’t need music, the living do, and that night we played to heal one of our own, to heal ourselves, and to feel with every vibration on our fingers, lips and hands what faith is.
The night ended with cheers and a standing ovation, I believe we all felt something of the mystic power of music that night. Included in this blog are three clips, comprising the entirety of the music portion of the concert. The music speaks for itself. Thank you John for the sonic avenues to traverse and thank you to all the musicians who played that night as conduits of faith.
I have posted here music players from the CD’s band camp pages so you can listen to the tracks and/or purchase downloads. Although the actual street dates for these releases are in 2013, I am making available both digital and physical options to purchase (hit the links on the album titles above) for motivated buyers who want to obtain these CDs as ‘pre-release’ specials. The Octet(o), Pablo and I are all very proud of these releases and hope you enjoy them. CD release concerts for both projects will be announced soon.
On December 15 we played at the Open Sound Studio Series in Union Sq. Somerville (Some great camera work in this video, and between the decor and Jorrit and my haircuts it kind of looks like we are playing in a room at the Overlook Hotel from Kubrick’s The Shining). Jorrit did not have his lyricon so we were without our electronic element, but regardless this video is a great example of what this band does. The first minute is a kind of intense interactive free pointillistic exchange which gradually comes to a simmer. From there the set visits all types of territory; solo moments, duets (including a beautiful, almost Romantic era ballad between Jorrit and Junko), some swinging odd meter jazz, fast free bop with noise, and lots more in between. I hope you enjoy it.
We hope to record this winter and I will keep you posted.
This summer, for me, has been a particularly fruitful one filled with music projects of all sorts that have challenged me and expanded my comfort zone of creativity in unexpected ways. These projects have included recording with jazz vocalist Karen Fraggos some very soulful and sultry jazz and R&B classics.
Performing in a monthly series with BOLT and improvising electro-acoustic quartet that includes Jorrit Dijkstra, Junko Simons, either Curt Newton or Eric Rosenthal and myself. Performing with the Junk Kitchen Players on a monthly concert series that most recently focused on classical and traditional Brazilian music.
Recording with the Pablo Ablanedo Octet all original music by Pablo which blend Argentinean music traditions with modern jazz. Finally my own solo recording project called ‘American Grace’ conceived in four days of solitude at my home studio thus completing a decade long project to complete the first ever solo jazz guitar recording trilogy.
(This is a sneak peek of a recent mix from my ‘American Grace’ session – let me know what you think)
This variety of work got me thinking about a philosophical conundrum in art. Is diversity or individuality more important? Specifically in music, do players thrive more as jack-of-all-trades or as iconoclasts, or is there a creative middle ground which includes both? This middle ground was the most interesting concept for me. I certainly know many talented ‘Jacks’ that can fill in for any band. They sound so good you would never know they were sitting in, but they also may not leave an impression with you because they play so ‘right’ that they don’t stand out. I also know some ‘Iconoclasts’ that really thrive at doing their thing, playing their tunes, improvise their way… but take them out of their comfort zone and watch out for the train wreck. What about the middle way, what I call ‘The Jazz Omnivore’. Pretty trendy title, I know, but it does sum up what is expected these days for musicians who are going to survive in the industry, especially the so-called jazz business. The Jazz Omnivore as I see it (and hear it) has to focus on two basic things… fluency of vocabularies and tenacious development of individuality. Music is a language with hundred of dialects and accents, we can’t be expected to know or master them all. However (and I speak specifically for American jazz players because that is what I am and that is my common tongue, but players from around the world can use this same logic as applied to their lingua franca) it must be expected that a player is fluent in the various vocabularies of their indigenous music culture. In the world of jazz, I break the language down into 3 vocabularies; Swing, Bebop and Post-bop. As a player and educator I make sure that the next generation of players knows about and can improvise, accompany, and phrase using those three vocabularies. Stylistically speaking, that covers the whole history of jazz which can include its’ folk roots of the blues to dixieland, to swing, to bop, to hard bop and cool to modal, free and fusion. The so-called post-modern era of today is filled with master players who have discovered new ways of playing and showcasing their individual voices by combining these three vocabularies in fresh ways.
These vocabularies also serve as platforms from which a player can ‘side-step’ to other styles. The blues is the foundation for Jazz, Country, Rock, Funk, basically all American folk and popular music. So with a strong foundation in the Swing vocabulary, for example, a ‘jazz player’ can jump into an R&B or rock setting and find common ground. Bebop with its technique and linear style can help a player jump into Klezmer, Bulgarian, Argentinean styles. With an understanding of Post-bop elements a player can wander into a modern classical, European improv, or even a Punk setting and find ways to make the music happen. Most importantly, however, may be the reverse approach in which a modern player should be able to absorb and incorporate elements from other styles that interest and inspire them into their improvisational vocabularies.
This brings me to my final point; individuality. It may seem counter-intuitive, but the fluency of the three jazz vocabularies and their ability to help ‘side-step’ into other styles actually promotes individuality. Since there is just so much music out there to explore, each improviser is inevitably going to find their own path and own combination of vocabularies and other dialects (music styles). The goal is to discover your own voice by concentrating on what you are naturally attracted to as an improviser. One player may really dig more traditional Be-bop early on and then later discover playing in odd meters and exotic minor modes gives their style a unique approach to harmony and phrasing. Another may really love the raw earthy articulations and timbres of the blues and free music but then connect that with the energy of punk and electric effects for a unique, personal sound. The combinations, and therefore, the potential for true individuality are literally endless.
Over the years my own playing has been described by the press, audiences, and other musicians as many, often contradictory things. I have been called a virtuoso, but my playing has also been called sloppy. I have been dubbed an ‘avant-guarde’ type player, as well as a ‘traditionalist with a strong sense of history’. I have been told I am a rootsy player that has soul, I have also been defined as ‘too intellectual’. I have been criticized for playing too many notes by some and for not being chopsy enough by others. The best, most frequent adjective used is ‘quirky’, which usually means they don’t know what to say. For years I thought they were all missing the point, focusing on the wrong things or at least not really understanding my music. But now (as a self proclaimed Jazz Omnivore celebrating individuality and the continuing journey into diverse music vocabularies) I realize that ALL those opinions are spot on CORRECT! The Jazz Omnivore can and should be all those things to all sorts of music fans, and maybe the Jazz Omnivore will lead the way for a new generation of musicians and music fans to experience music. The audience already has unlimited access to the whole history of all the world’s music (via i-tunes, spotify etc)… isn’t it time for musicians to also taste everything offered on the menu?