George - Letters to George Music Album Reviews

George - Letters to George Music Album Reviews
Featuring dual saxophones, synthesizers, voice, and drums, the new group led by Montreal composer John Hollenbeck analyzes pop songcraft through a jazz lens.

John Hollenbeck likes to blur the distinctions between the knotty virtuosity of jazz and the broad appeal of pop. Formed in the 1990s, his best-known project, the Claudia Quintet, emulates certain tenets of rock bands—the ensemble’s lineup has remained the same since its inception—and draws from the more accessible side of chamber jazz, eschewing harsh textures while indulging rhythmic weirdness. More recently, his Songs I Like a Lot / Songs We Like a Lot / Songs You Like a Lot trilogy placed hits like “Wichita Lineman” and “How Deep Is Your Love” under the microscope of big-band music, stretching pop songs out into sprawling 10-minute epics. 

Though it still aims for that same populist appeal, Hollenbeck’s new quartet GEORGE marks an eccentric departure from his previous work: Its debut album is a whimsical effort largely guided by the diverse tastes of its members. Rounded out by multi-instrumentalists Anna Webber (saxophone/flute), Aurora Nealand (saxophone/voice), and Chiquitamagic (keyboards/voice), the band formed and practiced remotely during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the four players would not meet in person for the first time until January 2022, when they assembled to record Letters to George. They seem to have embraced the strange set of circumstances that led to this initial session, emerging with a scrambled grab bag of tracks united in their disarray.

Bogotá-via-Toronto musician Chiquitamagic’s background is steeped in synthesizers and drum machines, and her club-tinged sensibility steers GEORGE into its most inspired territory, challenging her collaborators to fit their improvisation with her electronic aesthetic. On opening track “Earthworker,” her squelching bass synth lurches in step with Hollenbeck’s jerky percussion, setting up a hypnotic juxtaposition against velvety microtonal keys. This looped chord progression creeps along in small increments, rolling out a level plane for Webber and Nealand to build upon. Dual saxophones engage in warm, intimate conversation, and wordless vocals enter the mix, briefly matching a wayfaring keyboard melody note for note in the tune’s final stretch. “Earthworker” sets a high standard for what follows, tapping into each member’s full arsenal of experience and skills while maintaining a smooth exchange of ideas. Though their arrangements may seem perplexing, GEORGE’s music is quite listenable, emphasizing harmonic interplay and quirky energy. 

On “Can You Imagine This,” initially composed to test the viability of the band’s remote practice sessions, their obvious chemistry yields Letters to George’s most emotionally dynamic showing. Chiquitamagic’s odd chord voicings take a commanding role once again, creating a subtle sense of unease. Webber and Nealand have even more room to improvise here, concocting chromatic phrases that sound intriguingly tangy, but not quite sour. Like the aforementioned “Earthworker,” the song peaks near the end with an almost artificial vocal performance. This time, as Webber switches from saxophone to flute, Nealand chirps and stutters like a buffering video, weaving in and out of alignment with the woodwind. The band teeters on the edge of collapse, each improviser prodding at the edges of a sustained chord until Webber and Nealand stick their landings in unaccompanied tandem. It’s not the smoothest ride, but it’s never boring. 

GEORGE’s two cracks at cover songs don’t work as well as the adaptations on Songs I Like a Lot. Their rendition of “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)” struggles to gel around fractured drum fills and 808 pulses. A sparse backdrop of hushed saxophone and the occasional wash of digital strings create a sense of foreboding, but nothing emerges from the shadowy corners of the group improvisation. Their ambient reconstruction of Cyril Tawney’s sea shanty “Grey Funnel Line” is quite pretty, though, buoyed by impressionistic playing that results in some of Letters to George’s most melodic moments. 

Compared to the intricately composed, sometimes symphonic works Hollenbeck is best known for, GEORGE’s debut is an exercise in leaving things up to fate. The performances are impulsive and fun, augmented by sounds more associated with dance music and alt-pop than free jazz. The ideas don’t always coalesce cleanly, but when the band nails down its unique blend of vintage funk and futuristic electronica on tracks like “Washington Carver” and “Iceman,” GEORGE’s energy is as infectious as a perfect pop tune. 

Share on Google Plus

About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
George - Letters to George Music Album Reviews George - Letters to George Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on February 07, 2023 Rating: 5


Post a Comment