“Eric Hofbauer has become a significant force in Boston’s improvised-music scene,” declares Stereophile’s David R. Adler. “His aesthetic evokes old blues, Americana, Tin Pan Alley, bebop, and further frontiers. There’s a rule-breaking spirit but also an impeccable rigor, a foundation of sheer chops and knowledge, that put Hofbauer in the top tier of guitarists,” he writes.
Hofbauer has been an integral member of Boston’s jazz scene as a musician, bandleader, organizer and educator for the past twenty five years. He has performed and recorded alongside such notable collaborators as Han Bennink, Roy Campbell, Jr., John Tchicai, Garrison Fewell, Cecil McBee, George Garzone, Sean Jones, John Fedchock, Steve Swell and Matt Wilson.
Hofbauer, recognized in the 2019 and 2017 DownBeat Critics’ Poll for Rising Star – Guitar, is perhaps best known for his solo guitar work featured in a trilogy of solo guitar recordings (American Vanity, American Fear and American Grace). Of the trilogy, Andrew Gilbert of The Boston Globe writes, “No other guitarist in jazz has developed a solo approach as rigorous, evocative, and thoughtful as Hofbauer. His 2016 solo release Ghost Frets, was described by Chris Haines of The Free Jazz Collective “as a real testament to Hofbauer’s musical style and vision…The playing is virtuosic throughout providing a real master class in creative solo performance.”
The latest large-scale endeavor by Hofbauer is a five part series of original suites, each named after one of the elements (water, fire, wood, metal, and earth) featured in the Chinese philosophical construct known as Wu Xing. The first release, 2019's Book of Water, is a classic jazz-sextet lineup which Jerome Wilson of All About Jazz describes as "a thrilling ride that rolls, swirls and crashes like an elemental force. The horn players are exuberant, the rhythm section is buoyant and Hofbauer, whether carving out single notes like Derek Bailey or tossing off busy runs like Joe Morris, threads the music together. There is delicacy and power in equal measure on this excellent release, one of the best of the year so far." The second release in the series, 2020’s Book of Fire, was conceived in a duo format with Anthony Leva on upright bass. The duo’s acoustic performance is augmented by the addition of electronic instrumentation (MPC1000 drum machine and turntables) and the intertwined recordings of literary giant James Baldwin. The result is an intense amalgam of consonance and texture; tradition and innovation. Burning Ambulance’s Todd Manning describes the project in this way, “the virtuosity displayed by Eric Hofbauer is staggering at times, but his acumen as a composer is even more impressive. Despite the varied influences and elements at play, Book of Fire is both remarkably coherent yet sonically unpredictable.”
Hofbauer has earned critical acclaim for his work in a variety of musical projects, including recordings with the Garrison Fewell’s Variable Density Orchestra, The Pablo Ablanedo Octet(o), Charlie Kohlhase’s Explorer’s Club, and The Blueprint Project with Han Bennink among others. Hofbauer's three recent collaborative projects, The Hofbauer/Dylan Jack Duo (guitar and drums duet performing a distinctive genre-crossing repertoire of covers), Pocket Aces (a "consciously compositional" improvising trio) and the Hofbauer/Rosenthal Quartet (a modern post bop outfit focused on original composition) had debut releases in 2018/19.
For the past seven years, his primary ensemble has been the Eric Hofbauer Quintet. The EHQ performs Hofbauer’s jazz arrangements of groundbreaking 20th century pieces which he describes as “prehistoric jazz.” These arrangements celebrate the common ground between modern jazz and the works of Stravinsky, Messiaen, Ellington, and Ives by using the shared rhythmic and harmonic concepts of the 20th century modernists as a bridge to postmodern jazz improvisation. In November of 2014 the EHQ recordings Prehistoric Jazz Volume 1 (The Rite of Spring) and Volume 2 (Quartet for The End of Time) were featured on NPR’s Fresh Air by noted jazz writer Kevin Whitehead. The 2016 release Prehistoric Jazz Volume 3 (Three Places in New England) and the 2017 release Prehistoric Jazz Volume 4 (Reminiscing in Tempo) were consecutively on the Boston Globe’s Top 10 Jazz Albums of the Year lists, as well as receiving critical acclaim from Downbeat, The Wire, Tone Audio and other press.
Hofbauer received a Master’s degree from New England Conservatory and a Bachelor’s degree from Oberlin Conservatory. Hofbauer is the chair of the Jazz and Contemporary Music Dept. at Longy School of Music of Bard College where he teaches jazz theory, artist portfolio, chamber ensembles, solo repertoire class, and guitar lessons. For over 20 years he has taught jazz history at Emerson College. Hofbauer has also been visiting professor at Wellesley College, and faculty at Clark University and the University of Rhode Island. In 2009, he was honored with the Massachusetts Cultural Council Artist Fellowship in Music Composition.
Always attuned to unusual choices that keep his listeners guessing, guitarist Eric Hofbauer knows no bounds when it comes to his repertoire. One is as likely to hear a Cyndi Lauper or Nirvana cover as something by Thelonious Monk or Charlie Parker. And his stylistic approach on the guitar is similarly idiosyncratic, with a gutbucket blues as likely to spill forth as something more spikily avant-garde. This unpredictable creativity is once again on display on Remains of Echoes, an enticing duo release with drummer Dylan Jack, that features Hofbauer's prodigious technique and distinctive genre-crossing acumen. - Troy Dostert, AAJ
Those of us in the reviewing biz tend to obsess about artists we feel are underappreciated. It’s a noble impulse, we hope, and a necessary one, too, given the over-saturation of recordings out there. Since I first heard his music many years ago, I’ve been perplexed as to why the ace guitarist and composer Eric Hofbauer isn’t a household name. Aside from his wonderful playing itself – he generally favors a clean tone, and eschews excess – he’s drawn to conceptualism in his composing. I’m a sucker for that, and Book of Water is one of Hofbauer’s finest in recent years. For this entry in Hofbauer’s focus on the elements, his combo Five Agents (which is actually a sextet) delivers a bracing live set of postmodern mainstream jazz. Backed by the ace Boston rhythm section of bassist Nate McBride and drummer Curt Newton, Hofbauer and the tasty three-horn front line (trombonist Jeb Bishop, tenorist Seth Meicht, and trumpeter Jerry Sabatini) cavort through a complex, protean suite.
Eric Hofbauer is a guitarist and composer in a stylistic world located somewhere between modern jazz, the third stream, and free jazz. On The Book of Water leads a sextet...that evokes the writings of George Russell. Hofbauer may reminder the listener at time of such other guitarists as Bill Frisell, Marc Ribot, or Derek Bailey but close listening proves him a truly original guitarist. - Duck Baker, The Absolute Sound
Masterful Bostonian guitarist Eric Hofbauer has made something of a personalized speciality in the rare and difficult realm of solo guitar work as heard on his trilogy of albums, American Vanity, American Fear and American Grace (read the complete 4 star review)
– Josef Woodard, Downbeat
A rugged individualist, the guitarist exposes the angst-ridden underbelly of the American dream through a series of unflinching portraits…Hofbauer is also a down-to- Earth outer-space-man who launches his most far-flung sonic rockets from the most basic of materials: hymns, blues and functional harmony. (read the complete review)
– Tom Greenland, The New York City Jazz Record
Hofbauer plays the guitar like Derek Bailey, if Derek Bailey happened to be born in Mississippi instead of Sheffield England. He chisels sounds both primitive and modern, sometimes simultaneously…In his hands, a guitar can reconfigure “West End Blues” as free jazz or morph Sammy Cahn’s classic “Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out To Dry” into a devotional melody."
– Mark Corroto, All About Jazz
I’ve never heard anyone play the guitar like that before. There’s so much going on in there and it’s quite extraordinary to listen to, a lot of tremendous energy and that real self-propelling rhythmic feel as if he had his own built-in rhythm section.
—John Fordham, BBC 3’s Jazz on 3
Hofbauer is one of the most genuinely original guitarists of his generation, capable of renewing the language of jazz guitar with a fresh and iconoclastic approach, but without disrespect to tradition. This distinguishes him from the vast majority of his colleagues, and makes him and his work, worthy of careful consideration.
– Mario Calvitti, All About Jazz Italia
Boston, Massachusetts is truly blessed in having Eric Hofbauer as a member of its improvised music community. Over the course of successive releases he has proved himself to be one of the great original voices. He seemingly and effortlessly has forged a highly individual instrumental vocabulary and this, allied with a harmonic sense that’s by turns sly and steeped in wit, is one of the hallmarks of his work.
—Nic Jones, AllAboutJazz.com
“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.
– Brent Black, Critical Jazz (Bop-n-Jazz)
“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