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 2022, 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..
JERRY SABATINI has gained recognition in the Boston jazz scene as an adventurous, creative and diverse trumpet player, composer and educator. Known for his diverse musical tastes, Jerry performs in projects ranging from traditional Jazz to Balkan brass bands to music of the Middle and Far East to the Avant Garde. For the past twenty five years he has been working with many of the New England’s great bands such as The Boston Jazz Composer’s Alliance, The Makanda Project, Garrison Fewell’s Variable Density Orchestra, Mehmet Sanlikol’s Dunya, The Revolutionary Snake Ensemble, and Charlie Kohlhase’s Explorers Club. He has also shared the stage with influential musicians such as Oliver Lake, John Tchicai, Fred Frith, Elliot Sharp, Anthony Coleman, and Erkan Oğur. Since 1995, Jerry has composed and arranged for his own project, an octet called Sonic Explorers. Sonic Explorers have four independently released CDs. Sabatini has been commissioned for modern big band and jazz combo works, teaches privately, and is a frequent clinician and conductor at New England colleges, universities and high schools.
SETH MEICHT is Boston based saxophonist, composer, and educator. Nate Chinen, from The New York Times says, “Meicht is a tenor saxophonist with a robust tone and a venturesome streak, though he isn’t averse to swinging.” Since arriving in Boston by way of New York City and Philadelphia, Seth performs regularly with the areas top creative musicians. Projects include Seth Meicht and the Big Sound Ensemble, Charlie Kohlhase’s Explorers Club, and Eric Hofbauer’s 5 Agents. Select recordings include Seth Meicht and the Big Sound Ensemble: Live in Philadelphia (CIMPol), Illumine (CIMP), Loud Like Hemlocks (Scrapple Records). Seth spent several years working with his mentor Odean Pope in Philadelphia and New York. As a member of Odean’s world famous Saxophone Choir, Seth can be heard on the recording Locked and Loaded: Live and the Blue Note (Half Note) with guests James Carter, Joe Lovano, and Michael Brecker. Seth has been fortunate to share the stage and ideas with several other influential artists such as Ravi Coltrane, Byard Lancaster, Bobby Zankel, Darius Jones, Mike Pride, and Steve Swell. In addition to performances and the Blue Note in New York, Seth has performed at the Vision Festival, Montreal Jazz Festival, Charlie Parker Jazz Festival, The Stone, and the Kimmel Center (Philadelphia), as well as many top clubs and performance spaces in Philadelphia, New York, and Boston.
CURT NEWTON (drums) coaxes whispers from drumsets and swing from stacks of rattly stuff, weaving varied musical traditions together in the spirit of serious playfulness. Over the past three decades, Curt has performed across the U.S., Canada and Europe and appears on over 30 CDs with some of contemporary music's leading figures including Ken Vandermark, Joe Morris, Nate McBride, Pandelis Karayorgis, Charlie Kohlhase, Dave Bryant, and Steve Norton, and most recently as the drummer in the Eric Hofbauer Quintet. About one live performance, the Chicago Reader’s Peter Margasak wrote “Newton dazzles...He exhibited breathtaking restraint, breaking down time with a subtle hand, tapping out painterly splashes of sound." Curt studied privately with Bob Gullotti, has a Master's degree in Jazz Performance from New England Conservatory, and once upon a time created a solo drumset arrangement of Lutoslawski's String Quartet (available on Bandcamp). Curt is also a climate change community builder and activist, and the proud parent of two musically-inclined young adults.
ANTHONY LEVA (bass, Waking Up!) 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.
ABOUT: BOOK of WATER
On the guitarist’s 22nd project, a formidable frontline of horns comprising of tenor saxophonist Seth Meicht, trombonist Jeb Bishop and trumpeter Jerry Sabatini, join forces with the stellar rhythm section of Hofbauer, bassist Nate McBride, and drummer Curt Newton to form the Five Agents. This classic jazz-sextet lineup delivers a technically stunning performance over intensely rigorous compositions, all the while maintaining the freewheeling, improvisatory aesthetic so crucial to the ensemble’s sound. The composer’s history with these musicians becomes evident when noting the marvelous interplay between the rhythm section instruments and the synchronicity that the horn players have over even the most improvisational sections of these dense pieces. “There are so many layers of connections between everyone,” Hofbauer remarks, “that the result is a band sound steeped in experience — relaxed, trusting, comfortable and intuitive.”
Recorded in front of a live studio audience, Book of Water, is part one of a multi-ensemble project that will be in five parts. Hofbauer first conceived of this multi-part odyssey in 2016 as the release of five books in album format, each “book” containing five movements or “chapters.” The composer drew the parallel between the concept of this project and the Chinese philosophical construct of the Wu Xing or the “Five Agents.” Through the five elements of wood, fire, earth, metal and water, Hofbauer states that this ancient text offers the reader “a way to navigate, organize and explain relationships in nature, between people, in medicine, design and music.” In a bold attempt to tackle questions about interconnectedness, impermanence and other ‘meaning of life’ conundrums that the artist deems apropos to this deeply improvisation-steeped art-form, Hofbauer allows himself to explore each of the five tenets of this ancient text in his own way, starting with “Book of Water.”
While the Wu Xing provides the framework for Hofbauer’s Five Agents project as a whole, the chapter titles on this release, Book of Water, were derived from the Ralph Waldo Emerson poem “Water.” Hofbauer notes “It’s uncanny how the lines match up with the pace, feel and emotional space of each part of the piece. Water is a power element — flowing, changing states, placid sometimes, deadly others. We explore those themes in the chapters and Emerson’s poem matches almost line by line.” Hofbauer draws from this poem a prescient perspective on climate change and the threat of rising seas. The artist states “Each of my books connect to a major societal issue that is in need of ‘movement.’ This is not a programmatic piece on climate change, nor is it a call to action per se, but a catalyst for dialogue, for posing questions.”
Hofbauer’s Prehistoric Jazz series featured both Sabatini and Newton and explored the music of Messiaen, Stravinsky, Ives and Ellington. The influences of these composers on Hofbauer’s composition can not be understated. One can’t help but notice hints of neoclassicism and serialism in his compositions, but these stately underpinnings are woven into the fabric of pieces that are deeply rooted in the jazz tradition. Staying true to the nature of water, Book of Water can be characterized as stylistically fluid. In one moment, the listener can be engaged with a piece sonically reminiscent to that of Nefertiti-Era Miles Davis like the very beginning of the first chapter “The Water Understands Civilization Well” and then next, they can be introduced to a dixieland-inspired passage. Throughout this fluidity, the compositions remain genuine and cohesive.
“The Water Understands Civilization Well” looks at water as a positive force. This upbeat swing portion of the suite offers energetic duet conversations in lieu of solo sections. Chapter 2: “It Wets, It Chills” explores the various states of water (particularly vapor and ice) as sound which allows for a more sparse, delicate textural exploration. Chapter 3: “It is not Disconcerted” is, according to Hofbauer, “An acknowledgement that water doesn’t care, it does what it does. This section has a carefree, funky spare beat, bassline and guitar riffs, unfettered by the ‘bubbles’ as I call them from the brass. The tenor melody literally rises out of all that, launching into the solos.”
“Well Used, Adorning Joy” explores an odd-metered bass ostinato, starting with beautiful chordal passages by Hofbauer accompanied by McBride’s static bass figure, the energy of the piece builds as the full ensemble joins in to add punchy melodic accents leading into a stunning solo by Hofbauer. The line “Elegantly Destroy,” which the final chapter is named after reminds the composer of the intention of this album, “If that isn’t a harbinger of how Boston will lose ground to the Atlantic in the coming decades I don’t know what is.” Says Hofbauer, “I love the word ‘elegantly’ in this line, because unlike human destruction, water will create something new with all the grace and beauty of nature.” This chapter offers by far the most dynamic exploration of different feels and timbre. Featuring a fantastic, driving solo by saxophonist Seth Meicht leading into a far more free section of minimalist interplay, this composition seems to embody the idea of destruction and elegant reconstruction on which The Book of Water is based.
ABOUT: WAKING UP!
The global climate emergency was a major preoccupation when Boston-based guitarist and composer Eric Hofbauer released Book of Water in 2018. He based the album’s five track titles (e.g., “Water Understands Civilization Well,” “Ill Used, Elegantly Destroy”) on language from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s poem “Water.” He also envisioned a series of release concerts in cities threatened by rising seas, Boston being one of them.
Soon after, in 2019, the remarkable young climate activist Greta Thunberg delivered a speech at the UN Summit for Climate Action, in which she declared, “How dare you!” — throwing down a challenge to big business and world leaders to look beyond greed and meet the crisis head-on. Aside from being deeply moved and galvanized by the speech, the guitarist found himself drawn to the rhythms and phrases in Thunberg’s delivery and her distinctly non-native English.
The spark was lit for Waking Up!, Hofbauer’s newest project on his Creative Nation label: a reboot of the “Five Agents” ensemble from Book of Water, but with one less horn, and with Anthony Leva stepping in for Nate McBride on bass. Trumpeter Jerry Sabatini and drummer Curt Newton, close colleagues and veterans of many a Hofbauer-led project, are well-versed in his approach, bringing a wealth of tonal color and narrative focus to the set.
“Thunberg’s speech is so honest, blunt and authentic,” Hofbauer says, “and I think of her as an icon and inspiration for someone like my daughter and the younger generation, who have to bear the brunt of what’s coming. In her delivery there’s so much pain, frustration and worry. It’s very moving, and I wanted to use that emotional space as a jumping-off point for improvisation.”
As a start, Hofbauer took the first two to three minutes of the speech — up to the point of the now globally renowned pinnacle of “How Dare You!” — and transcribed it in full, paying close attention to rhythm and phrasing. “I found within it different tempos and meters, or rhythmic collections of syllables, and was able to create a palette from which to compose. I chopped it up into logical chunks where phrases or grooves felt connected, and I’d say, ‘Ok I’ll have a movement built off of this 20-second segment.’ She has a lot of groups of five, and a lot of triplet-type things when she speaks, which translates really well into a kind of polyrhythmic, flowing, behind-the-beat swinging feel that was really compelling to explore.”
The process from there was wide open, Hofbauer explains: “I might take a particular phrase and make it the bass line, or a comping pattern. It’s not a transcription where you line up her speech exactly — except in Part 4, where we do play the rhythm of ‘How Dare You!’ Other than that, it’s pretty abstracted.”
“Part 1: We’ll Be Watching” begins with the sound of the Earth. Eerie atmospheric sounds created by guitar and effects lead gradually to an off-kilter rhythmic dance introduced by Leva. The language is dissonant, polytonal, rooted in the theoretical concept of “the diamond” that Hofbauer has explored for years. This involves “stacking different keys related by minor or major 3rds, or whole steps,” he explains. “I also use parameter-based pitch set writing where I might create a pitch set and apply it to a rhythm of Thunberg’s, or a loop or part of the melody, particularly in Parts 1 and 2. For example, I give trumpet the pitch set forwards and tenor the same set backwards to work with. It creates counterpoint with seemingly random harmonies that actually are interconnected.” It also opens a wide improvisational terrain, to which Meicht and Sabatini respond eagerly with fierce solos throughout.
Hofbauer ends Part 1 with four minutes of angular and absorbing solo guitar to set the transition to “Part 2: For Hope.” A sequence of unaccompanied solos unfolds, linked by connective groove passages from the full quintet. You’ll also hear Hofbauer using extended techniques, creating rough timbres behind the bridge, related in a sense to his use of echo, reverse and freeze pedals as well as overdrives and distortions of varying severity to expand the sonic palette.
Following the mysterious chorale-like chamber passage ending Part 2, Sabatini takes up plunger mute for “Part 3: Nostalgia Is a Form of Denial, or The Poly-Crisis Blues.” This is the greasy movement, a slow shuffle in Ab with melodic material drawn from A minor pentatonic. “The plunger mute has a long history in jazz of connecting the trumpet to vocal tradition,” Hofbauer remarks. “It’s about going over the top and being almost sublimely ridiculous, finding humor in it all. Since this whole suite is coming from a vocal source, the plunger just fits. My instruction to Seth, who just had the chords, was: ‘What if Lester Young improvised an accompaniment but could only remember Albert Ayler fingerings?’ For Curt, I said: ‘What if Baby Dodds had to play Louis Jordan’s ‘Mop Mop’ while pausing occasionally to do a shot of bourbon?’ We’ve worked together for so many years and I trust everyone’s musical choices so deeply that sometimes it is more satisfying to create scenarios or questions that get solved in the performance, rather than conventional jazz arranging approaches.”
“Part 4: How Dare You!” is introduced by Leva solemnly alone, “the calm before the storm” as Hofbauer describes it. “This is a weird hard-bop tune that starts from a space of comfortable and gets to uncomfortable as we build to the rhythmic climax of ‘How Dare You!’ It’s the singular moment in the suite where I take the speech syllable by syllable and transcribe it exactly: ‘and all you can think about is the money, and the fairy tales of eternal economic growth.’ The band repeats that phrase three times and it builds and builds, until we all play ‘How Dare You!’ together. When Thunberg says it, she inhales at the end of her sentence. I wanted to capture the frailty of that inhale with the trumpet and guitar.”
The suite ends with a relaxed hip-hop-inspired groove as the band gradually fades. “And so we’re back to the beginning, the sound of planet Earth,” Hofbauer says, pointing to the very same eerie sounds and loops that opened Part 1. “That looper sound is supposed to be Earth drifting off into space. On a universal timescale the planet will be fine. We just won’t be on it.”
JEB BISHOP (Book of Water) has been a leading international voice on trombone in the new music and improvisation scene since the 1990's.
In late 1995, Bishop joined the Vandermark 5 as one of its founding members, and remained with the band through the end of 2004. During this period he also became associated with many other groups, including the Peter Brötzmann Chicago Tentet, School Days, Ken Vandermark's Territory Band, and his own Jeb Bishop Trio, and became a very frequent participant in ad hoc and free-improvised concerts in Chicago. Bishop performed in the inaugural concerts of two of the longest-running free-music concert series in Chicago: the Myopic Books weekly concerts (originally at Czar Bar; with Rev Trio) and the Empty Bottle Wednesday night concert series (with a quartet of Terri Kapsalis, Kevin Drumm, and Jim O'Rourke). He curated the monthly Chicago Improvisers Group concerts at the Green Mill from 1999-2002, and co-curated the weekly Eight Million Heroes concert series at Sylvie's in 2005-6.
In 2012, Bishop relocated to Carrboro, NC, and then to Durham, NC, where he made associations with musicians in the area including David Menestres, Dan Ruccia, Carrie Shull, and Eugene Chadbourne, and helped present and organize performances in the NC Triangle region. In 2015, he relocated again to Boston, and is now active in the scene there.
NATE McBRIDE (bass, Book of Water) is an American jazz bassist who grew up in Seattle and moved to Boston in the 1990's. In different formations he has worked with drummer Curt Newton, guitarist Joe Morris, pianist Pandelis Karayorgis and saxophonist Ken Vandermark.
Since the early 2000s, McBride has directed and organized the concert series Modern Improvised Music in Boston. He leads his own quartet and is a member of the Pandelis Karayorgis Trio, the group mi3, Tripleplay, Spaceways Incorporated, FME and Bridge 61. As a sideman, he worked among others. with Mat Maneri, Joe McPhee, Paal Nilssen-Love, Jim Hobbs, Charlie Kohlhase, Allan Chase, Satoko Fujii, James Pipe and Hamid Drake.