Charles Ives’ Three Places in New England (Orchestral Set No. 1) is originally a composition for orchestra, composed mainly between 1911 and 1914. This piece has become one of Ives’ most commonly performed compositions. It exhibits the signature traits of his style: multiple, sometimes simultaneous melodies, many of which are recognizable hymn and marching tunes; masses of sound including tone clusters; and sudden, sharp textural contrasts. Ives’ paraphrasing of American folk tunes is a particularly important device, providing the listener with tangible reference points in often rhythmically or harmonically dense music passages.
In Hofbauer’s version these signature techniques act as links between Ives’ original material and contemporary jazz techniques and/or improvisation. For example, the familiar march melodies are reimagined and interpreted with swing phrasing and syncopation. Likewise, the layers of simultaneous melody evolve into collective improvisation or counterpoint between composed melodies and ‘jazz solo’ lines. Most importantly is the overlapping focus on American folk melody. The Quintet version highlights, in particular, the use of the minor third interval found in Ives’ folk melody references (especially in the first movement, “St. Gaudens”) as a bridge to the African American folk form of the blues. In doing so, this updated jazz arrangement re-envisions Ives’ ideal of “American-ness” to include a more modern and diverse soundscape. Thus representing a larger contextualized story of 20th century American music, one that includes styles and techniques from the African American music diaspora central to all contemporary American music.
It’s gratifying to see young jazz bandleaders of our day reinvent the music of Shostakovich, Webern, Ligeti, Machaut and others. For Boston-based guitarist Eric Hofbauer, who in 2014 confronted monumental works by Stravinsky and Messiaen on Prehistoric Jazz, Vols. 1 & 2, the goal was not a melding of genres or a salute to “serious” music in general, but rather a puzzling over matters of timbre and instrumentation, improvisational pathways and harmonic implications specific to these composers and not others. The orchestrations were rigorous yet everywhere was the spark of the unexpected. Hofbauer’s take on the encounter of European modernism with the America of blues and jazz follows in the best tradition of Joplin, James P. Johnson and all that came after.
That holds true once again for Prehistoric Jazz, Vol. 3, devoted to Charles Ives’ Three Places in New England, a masterpiece of bracing modernism that the Connecticut sage completed in 1914 and revised in 1929. Ives’ sound world — deeply mysterious, irreverent, dissonant in the extreme — is kindred in spirit to the “prehistoric jazz” that Leonard Bernstein once spoke about in Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du printemps, and that Hofbauer extrapolated on Prehistoric Jazz, Vol. 2 to include Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time. Moreover, Ives’ appropriation of plantation songs, military marches and other vernacular sources is itself jazz-like. And Three Places, inspired as it is by Revolutionary and Civil War monuments as well as natural scenes in and around Ives’ native Connecticut, amounts to a meditation on America’s past and future — something about which jazz has quite a lot to say.
Naturally, Three Places is a three-movement work; the first movement is just under nine minutes, the second six minutes and the last roughly four. In this chamber-jazz quintet treatment by Hofbauer, the first two movements grow to an improvisation-heavy 17 minutes, the third to just under six. “I created in each piece a series of guidelines and goals,” Hofbauer explains, “instructions to help keep the improvisations on track and connected to the stories and emotional places of each movement.” As models, Hofbauer cites the streamlined compositional approach of Kind of Blue but also various concepts from the Art Ensemble of Chicago and Henry Threadgill.
Perhaps to an even greater extent than the Stravinsky and Messiaen albums, Hofbauer’s Three Places benefits from a robust, pure acoustic studio sound and crystal-clear separation of voices. “This piece is about folk music and melodies,” says Hofbauer, “and there needs to be an intimacy at the center of each movement. The acoustic guitar captures that closeness, addressing the American-ness and nostalgia, while also providing a more pointed and percussive attack when needed to highlight the nuanced timbral language of specifically African-American music vocabularies.”
“[Hofbauer’s] Prehistoric Jazz series is less about jazzing the classics than situating the last century’s classical music and classic jazz in the same modernist continuum.” – Kevin Whitehead, Tone Audio Magazine
“The piece has undergone radical expansion…The instrumentation gives it an old-timey, trad jazz feel, but there’s a sharp edge amid the jollity. Hofbauer’s forcefully strummed guitar occasionally attains a power and agressiveness recalling Derek Bailey, particularly when a sudden slide down the fretboard, or an unexpected dissonant note, springs out…The shifts between composition and improvisaion are seamless throughout; Hofbauer and his compatriots have put tremendous thought into their explorations of this challenging and still vibrant music.” – Phil Freeman, The WIRE
“The delicate string passages of the original are rendered here through gossamer guitar chords and billowing clarinet, and piquant brass statements are transformed into smeary plunger-muted trumpet solos. Beneath it all thrums the pulse of unabated swing, which Hofbauer doesn’t so much append to the music as unearth it from its source” (4 stars) – Brian Zimmerman, Downbeat Magazine
“Charles Ives’s best-known “orchestral set” Three Places in New England usually lasts about 20 minutes. Guitarist Eric Hofbauer’s ingenious arrangement is looser than his brilliant transcription of Stravinsky’s Rite, the three pieces lasting twice as long. All for the good; the extra legroom allows Ives’s tunes to breathe, unencumbered by layers of orchestral murk. The music’s vernacular roots have never been more lucidly exposed. This music is full of appealing diatonic melodies, though Ives tends to superimpose them in different keys. You suspect that he’d have enjoyed Hofbauer’s jazzier interpolations, like the extended blues near the close of The ‘St. Gaudens’ in Boston Common.”
– Graham Rickson, The Arts Desk
“The extended improvisations the quintet presents in the opening movement in particular make it feel less like the quintet’s rendering of Ives and more like a pure quintet performance rooted in Ives but not overly determined by it. But just as he has done elsewhere, Hofbauer has been careful to not sever too completely ties to the original work… Regardless of whether the group is adhering to the composer’s guidelines, dishing out a slinky blues, or improvising freely, its playing on this third volume feels even more cohesive than on the first two, and a comfort level and ease emerges that makes for endlessly pleasurable listening.” – Ron Schepper, Textura
“What’s remarkable is how modern this music sounds, even though Hobauer’s quintet honors both the spirit and the sound of the source material. There’s a heavy influence from American folk, as well as both chamber and classical; traditional jazz shows its charms, and the blues turn up in almost every song. It’s perhaps that last quality that allows this music ring with sincerity, even as it unleashes its sense of humor with curveball melodies, marching cadences and groundswells of dissonance” – Dave Sumner, Bandcamp Daily
“What Hofbauer has done here is create an atmosphere that takes Ives’s piece through various stages of jazz. One hears a touch of early New Orleans, Duke Ellington’s “jungle music”, swing, bop and more, doubling the piece from its 20-minute structure with the additions of solos and group-within-the-Quintet interaction. The real joy is how well this approach works…This music is a striking piece of Americana. Charles Ives pushed the boundaries of classical music with his approach to orchestral and solo works. Eric Hofbauer and Quintet also push boundaries, make you hear American music in different ways, illustrating the fusion of styles that compelled Ives and the multitude of curious jazz and classical performers and composers throughout the 20th Century to the present day. “Three Places in New England” is quite an aural treat – enjoy the journey.” – Richard Kamins, Step Tempest
“Mr. Hofbauer’s quintet is completely acoustic and the music is superbly captured. There is no bassist in this quintet yet there is a cellist who takes the place at times. Like Mr. Ives’ music, this version involves several themes or threads which are often in flux and switch direction throughout. Although this music sounds free at times, we can tell that there was a plan or direction involved as written fragments emerge and submerge. On occasion Mr. Hofbauer’s acoustic guitar recalls the majestic grace of Duck Baker with some crafty interplay from the rest of this mighty fine quintet. On the second section, “Putnam’s Camp’, the quintet with Mr. Brunell on bass clarinet sounds as if they are play harmolodically with several melodic fragments swirling around one another in a most marvelous fashion. Although this music is cleanly recorded, it does take some concentration to hear all that is going on as threads shift throughout. Like the earlier Hofbauer disc I reviewed, it stands on its own as one of the best examples of modern acoustic jazz, written or otherwise.” – Bruce Lee Gallanter, Downtown Music Gallery
All compositions by Charles Ives.
All arrangements by Eric Hofbauer (Spice-E Music, BMI).
Recorded (01/16), Mixed & Mastered at The Rotary Records (rotaryrecords.com) by Warren Amerman
Design by Benjamin Shaykin (benjaminshaykin.com),
Liner Notes by David Adler (adlermusic.com)
Photo by Lauren Poussard (laurenpoussard.com)
Produced by Eric Hofbauer (erichofbauer.com)
Printed by DWRI Letterpress (dwriletterpress.net)
℗ 2016 Creative Nation Music
© 2016 Creative Nation Music