book of fire
ERIC HOFBAUER "is one of the most genuinely original guitarists of his generation," declares All About Jazz Italia's Mario Calvitti,"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.” Hofbauer has been integral to Boston’s jazz scene for twenty-five years, as a musician, bandleader, organizer and educator. Recognized in the 2019 and 2017 DownBeat Critics’ Poll for Rising Star – Guitar, he is widely known for his solo guitar work, featured in a collection of solo guitar recordings (American Vanity, American Fear, American Grace and Ghost Frets), and as the leader of the Eric Hofbauer Quintet (EHQ). The EHQ’s series of four “Prehistoric Jazz” recordings, featuring Hofbauer’s jazz arrangements of Stravinsky, Messiaen, Ellington, and Ives, placed consecutively on the Boston Globe’s Top 10 Jazz Albums of the Year lists, and received critical acclaim from leading press such as Downbeat, The Wire, and Tone Audio. Hofbauer has also 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.
ANTHONY LEVA is a multi-disciplinary artist & educator in Cambridge, MA. Most comfortable on upright bass, Anthony regularly performs with the Unima Award winning puppetry troupe, the Gottabees, as well as the Dylan Jack Quartet, Charlie Kohlhase’s Explorer’s Club, Eric Hofbauer, Brian Carpenter, Samodivi and Jaggery. He is an active collaborator in the Boston Art’s scene where his omnivorous appetite for creativity and collaboration spans theatre, film, puppetry, folk music (Americana, African, and Balkan), as well as jazz, improvised and classical music. In addition to bass, Anthony also plays sintir (a North African bass lute). Anthony has recorded over 30 albums to date. 2020 promises to be an exciting year with three albums slated for release within the first two months. These albums include: Having it Out with Melancholy (self-release), A song cycle set to the Poems of Jane Kenyon; music composed by Michael Veloso and performed by Jaggery (a Boston based art rock collective); The Tale of the Twelve-Foot Man (Creative Nation Music); music performed by the Dylan Jack Quartet, and, making his debut on turntables and the SP 303 sampler is Book of Fire (Creative Nation Music), a duo album with Eric Hofbauer in which their acoustic performance is augmented by the addition of electronic instrumentation and the intertwined recordings of literary giant James Baldwin.
In 2018, Anthony received a Master’s Degree in Modern American Music from the Longy School of Music at Bard College. Over the last 15 years he has had the great fortune to perform and tour extensively throughout the USA, Canada, Europe and India. In 2019, he received a USAI grant to travel to India to perform at the AHA! Theatre Festival for Children..
Anthony is the community music director for Tunefoolery, a non-profit dedicated to a unique and courageous community of over 55 musicians in mental health recovery who have created a safe place where support, paid work, and learning are the foundation for healing and recovery.
Book of Fire is the second album in the Eric Hofbauer's Wu Xing (Five Agents) Series, Hofbauer’s musical depiction of every part of the ancient Chinese schematic of the Five Agents, or Five Elements. Book of Fire is the gripping follow-up to Hofbauer’s June 2019 sextet album Book of Water. Book of Fire, a stark contrast from Hofbauer’s last release, 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 and the intertwined recordings of literary giant James Baldwin. The result is an intense amalgam of consonance and texture; tradition and innovation.
Integrating unlikely instrumentation on this release, Hofbauer plays not only his customary Guild archtop guitar but also drum machine and sampler (the Akai MPC1000) and in addition to upright bass, Leva is on turntables throughout this release. Regarding his use of sampling and other electronics, Hofbauer notes “I’m certainly nowhere near a hip-hop producer, I don’t make beats that way, I don’t know how,” Hofbauer states. “Instead I got together with the drummers I work with frequently — Curt Newton, Dylan Jack and Austin McMahon — and I recorded them. I also recorded some of Tony’s bass notes and lines, myself on guitar and also some auxiliary percussion, put it all together into a sequence bank and started creating beats and sounds, chopping up four-bar phrases into other things in odd meters, mixing and matching and layering so basically every drum beat I came up with is like a ‘super-drummer’ comprised of the grooves and sounds of three of my favorite drummers.”
Hofbauer’s Wu Xing series will ultimately cover every part of the ancient Chinese schematic of the Five Agents, or Five Elements. We’ve now had water and fire; wood, metal and earth are still to come. Each one speaks to a particular social/political reality in need of “movement,” as Hofbauer puts it. Book of Water touched on the problem of climate change, and now Book of Fire arrives with sobering reflections on racial inequality.
The Book of Fire suite is made up of five chapters. The title of the first chapter, “Courting Madness” refers to a James Baldwin passage from the novel Giovanni’s Room. This acoustic blues acts as a vehicle for the use of a drum machine and improvisation by Hofbauer. On the coalescence of his music and Baldwin’s speech, Hofbauer indicates “His sense of space, his mastery of the dramatic pause, his cadence and patterns are deeply musical,” Hofbauer observes. “It’s rhythmic, it’s got its own kind of groove and swing that fit perfectly with the music. It was serendipitous how perfectly his text fit with the beats and pulse and integrated immediately.”
The textural musings of “Pray for Rain” are adorned with James Baldwin’s playful literary-musical analysis of Bessie Smith. This track sees the improvisation on a written theme coinciding with Hofbauer’s use of an echo effect allowing him to produce otherworldly sounds from his instrument. In fact, Book of Fire is Hofbauer’s first recording to date that features him using any guitar effects at all. The artist uses them strategically and sparingly, but with forceful, dramatic results. “History is the Present” is a purely instrumental exploration; a duet between turntables and acoustic guitar. Hofbauer creates layers of blues-fueled texture on “Something Gives”, an impassioned combination of slide guitar and a fuzz-distortion tone. Seemingly the climax of the release, this fiery track spirals into entropy alongside the bold and beautiful words of James Baldwin and Bobby Seale.
The final chapter of Book of Fire, “Terrible and Beautiful,” emerges “out of the ashes and the smoke,” Hofbauer says, after Chapter Four’s enormous energy release. Here is where “things start to rebuild and reform,” he continues, “with a new positive but mindful way to move forward.” Baldwin’s words in Chapter 5 are from a prepared speech he delivered to young people, imparting wisdom about “the terrible storm that is life, terrible and beautiful, but you must know that it is both.” Hofbauer notes that fire, too, is terrible and beautiful, and so for that matter is water. Book of Fire, Hofbauer and Leva’s sonic exploration and foray into the realm of electronic instrumentation, can be described as a meditation on the state of racial inequality in our country, a catalyst for dialogue, for posing questions.