The Eric Hofbauer Quintet is kicking off summer with the digital release of the critically acclaimed sister recordings, Prehistoric Jazz Volume 1 – The Rite of Spring and Prehistoric Jazz Volume 2 – Quatour pour la fin du temps. Both recordings are now available through most digital retailers, including i-tunes and youtube.
In addition, Warren Amerman from Rotary Records, who recorded both Prehistoric Jazz releases, recently shot and edited a music video of ‘The Augurs of Spring’ from Prehistoric Jazz Volume 1! It is rare to see a serious production-value music video of jazz, or most other instrumental music for that matter, especially one able to capture the spirit of improvisation and group interaction through the camera angles and film editing. Very cool!
Just a reminder… CD’s can still be purchased at the links below.
“With sure workmanship and untamed inquisitiveness, Boston-based guitarist Eric Hofbauer is no stranger to confronting unusual yet stimulating music. Examples include 2008’s uncharacteristic guitar duo The Lady of Khartoum with Garrison Fewell or the strikingAmerican solo series—American Vanity (2004), American Fear (2010) and American Grace(2013)—which crossed distinctive terrains of improvisation and covers of iconic pieces suchLouis Armstrong‘s “West End Blues,” Cindy Lauper’s “True Colors” and a raucous take on rock group Van Halen’s “Hot for Teacher.”
So with a new quintet and his imaginative proclivity it’s not a stretch for Hofbauer to set his sights on the music of two early 20th century composers with his Prehistoric Jazz volumes brought to fruition through a concert series and two recordings which illuminate the art of a jazz improvisation and artistic liberties of Russian composer Igor Stravinsky’s iconic 1913 ballet and orchestral concert masterpiece—Le Sacre du printemps (The Rite of Spring) and French composer Olivier Messiaen’s 1941 Quatuor pour la fin du temps (Quartet for the End of Time).” – Mark F. Turner, All About Jazz
“For most people “prehistoric jazz” means W.C. Handy or Buddy Bolden, yet Boston-based Eric Hofbauer puts a post-modern spin on the concept. Recognizing that advanced improvisation takes as much from the so-called classical tradition as jazz, he reworks two 20th-century musical milestones into separate programs for trumpeter Jerry Sabatini, clarinetist Todd Brunel, cellist Junko Fujiwara and drummer Curt Newton plus his own guitar. Each is handled differently.
The studied primitivism of Igor Stravinsky’s symphonic The Rite of Spring is miniaturized with each player standing in for a different orchestral section. The result is as rousing and romantic as the original score, but with openings for distinctive solos that rhythmically extend the composer’s ur-modernism. Originally composed for a chamber ensemble, Olivier Messiaen’s Quatuor pour la fin du temps is implemented with as much joyous ecstasy as the composer intended, but stripped of its overt Christian mysticism.” – Ken Waxman, The Whole Note
“An interesting blend of old-timey music, classical, and avant-garde clatter and squeak…both provide opportunities for the various members of the group to take extended, introspective solos, or dialogue with each other, as the mood dictates”
– Burning Ambulance Top 25 of 2014 (#14)
“It’s really hard to choose one volume over the other so be wise and purchase both. This music will bring you hours of pleasure as you listen to the care and attention Eric Hofbauer put into making “The Rite of Spring” and “Quintet for the End of Time.” While it’s clear the Quintet can and does play with great virtuosity, this music is also emotionally strong and heartfelt.” – Richard Kamins, Step Tempest Blog
“Boston-based, top tier guitarist eric hofbauer uses his quintet to shake the cobwebs out of birthing the universe” – Ann Porotti, WTJU 91.1FM UVA Radio
“There are so many interesting cross-references at work here, Hofbauer seems to have thought of everything. First of all, the sound and approach of this ensemble often sounds a bit like 1920s jazz, which would have been the era in which “Rite” could have been first played as an experimental jazz piece. None of this is obvious or ‘museum like’ as Hofbauer also draws on many modern elements such as free improvisation and more. The 20s sound of the ensemble and the modern NYC eclectic influences blend seamlessly, the end result is a piece that fits well with the music of today… Eric Hofbauer’s version of “The Rite of Spring” never gets boring or predictable, the main melodies of the piece come and go while they mix with all manner of diversions and excursions. Eric is able to accent the modernist elements of this piece, both in the context of its time period and today, and show the connecting similarities in both decades. This rendition really brings new life to Stravinsky’s creation, and I think Igor would have enjoyed hearing it. The added plus is Hofbauer’s guitar playing, which somehow can capture some of the color of Stravinsky’s original orchestrations.”
– Jazz Music Archives.com
“Guitarist Eric Hofbauer does things his own way, in ways other people generally don’t. But he steps further beyond the expected these days with a two-volume offering that takes some contemporary 20th century milestone classical compositions and arranges them for a jazz-centered quintet….The band has their hands full realizing the motifs and getting loose and free improvisationally, or even at times sounding like an early jazz band and/or Duke’s Jungle period outfit, too. Much credit goes to the arrangements/arranger, and to the sextet itself also for their creative transformations.” – Grego Applegate Edwards, Gapplegate Guitar and Bass Blog
“As with volume one Eric does not give you an end-to-end transcription of the original work, but instead selects key motives and sections, giving the themes to various instrumental combinations and slanting the phrases at times for a more jazzed reading. The Messiaen really lends itself to this treatment, and Eric makes much out of the music so that it convinces fully as jazz for today. There are certain passages of the work that sound so boppish you’d think Messiaen meant them that way. Kudos to Hofbauer for hearing the potential and realizing it so well. Eric, Jerry and Todd get some really interesting solos going too, at times simultaneously. It is no easy feat to pull this off, but Hofbauer and company do so with style, swinging heat and smarts. This one brings it on home! Many stars, if I rated things that way. Highly recommended! – Grego Applegate Edwards, Gapplegate Guitar and Bass Blog
“Perhaps the most adventurous attempt at a renaissance fusion of what has been referred to as “third stream” music… Jazz and classical have an unspoken wall of theory placed between them. Guitarist Eric Hofbauer has just shattered the wall and raised the bar for modern composition across the board….The Eric Hofbauer Quintet is magnificent… To refer to Hofbauer as a modern if not impressionistic virtuoso is not a stretch, and the quintet is first rate with the amazing ability to perform with a sound twice their size. (These recordings) are the personification of passion on a shiny silver disc.
– Brent Black, Critical Jazz (Bop-n-Jazz)
— 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.