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Disc review: John Hollenbeck, Songs We Like a Lot


John Hollenbeck

Songs We Like a Lot


Four stars

Maybe love isn’t better the second time around but this disc proves that it can be just as good. When John Hollenbeck collaborated with these same people on “Songs I Like a Lot,” I was, frankly, so in love with the resultant disc that I couldn’t get it out of my disc player for weeks. That was in 2013.

The same thing happened a month ago with this. If I had unlimited funds, I would buy one for everyone I know and care about. (Those I know and don’t care about can fend for themselves.)

Here is percussionist/composer Hollenback again with the same incredible cast – singers Theo Bleckmann and Kate McGarry with the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, this time with pianist Uri Caine. And once again, the idea is to find cherishable pop music without doing anything to “unpop it” while, at the same time, giving it magnificent jazz orchestral settings in the greatest Gil Evans/Bob Brookmeyer tradition.

The songs are great by any reckoning – Pete Seeger’s “How Can I Keep From Singing,” Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors” (whose true colors, as Hollenbeck reveals them, are unexpectedly epic), the Carpenters’ Burt Bacharach favorite “Close to You” and the Fifth Dimension’s Jimmy Webb beauty “Up, Up and Away.” Along with them all are a couple of Hollenbeck originals “The Snow Is Deep on the Ground” a setting of poetry by Kenneth Patchen and his Rumi setting called “Constant Conversation.”

Just to make sure that contemporary pop music isn’t forgotten, there’s a brief two and a half minute “de-rangement” of the big Daft Punk hit “Get Lucky” which is translated into Russian. I have no idea why, but whatever Hollenbeck wants to do on this disc, at that point, should be fine, just fine, with all of us.

This is the second time in a month that this particular tradition of orchestral jazz has given us a masterpiece. The first was the Maria Schneider Orchestra’s “The Thompson Fields” on ArtistsShare. What you’re hearing with these truly extraordinary jazz artists is jazz giving itself permission to luxuriate in pure haunting beauty with no guilt whatsoever. And with Hollenbeck, you’re hearing such shameless and luxurious intelligence applied to melodies that are both familiar and beloved.

And, as the leader/arranger proves, just as lovable when they’re given such hardy but exquisite instrumental settings.

Leave plenty of room in your life to be hearing this music continuously for days or even weeks.

– Jeff Simon

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