freely improvised yet consciously compositional
ERIC HOFBAUER(guitar) “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.” 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.
AARON DARRELL (bass) was born in Selma, Alabama in 1987. A lifelong performer, Aaron has participated in countless choirs, and performed touring operas as a child. He received his bachelor’s Degree from Berklee College of Music with a concentration in Composition and Performance on the Double Bass. He has studied bass with Dave Santoro, Victor Wooten, Drew Gress, Katy McGinn, John Lockwood, and Chuck Israels. Other influential instructors were Yakov Gubanov, David Aiken, Ed Tomassi, Greg Osby, and Hal Crook. Aaron has performed his own original music and led workshops about improvisation, ensemble playing, and composition in over 25 U.S. states and several countries in Europe. He has currently integrated into the Boston music scene and can be found performing with his own projects widely varying in genre and appeal, as well as groups with Charlie Kohlhase, Curt Newton, Pandelis Karayorgis, Jorrit Dijkstra, Eric Hofbauer, Forbes Graham, Garrison Fewell, and more. Aaron also enjoys spending time drawing, reading, sharing food, learning about sustainability, health, and increasing inner resonance.
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.
POCKET ACES brings together three renowned members of Boston’s jazz and improvised music scene: guitarist Eric Hofbauer, bassist Aaron Darrell, and drummer Curt Newton. Their music extends the rich jazz trio tradition, where each voice balances and strengthens the others through contrast, surprise and clairvoyant interaction. Although freely improvised, the music of Pocket Aces is given to bouts of form, groove, and crafty melodies. Distillation of ideas, with a premium on space and tone palette, provides a strong coherence as the trio navigates the familiar and unfamiliar.
This trio first gelled as the rhythm section in the Charlie Kohlhase Explorers Club, an outward-leaning fixture of Boston jazz. Here they began to develop a unique collective voice, continuously pushing boundaries and joyously subverting traditional roles.
Newton describes the group’s approach as “consciously compositional….favoring space over density, distillation over stream-of-consciousness interaction, and fragility over bluster. I think this gives our free playing a strong sense of coherence.” Each of the eight tracks onCull the Heard highlights a different side of this spontaneous intention. He notes how “each of us can set up a rhythmic territory, a cell or cycle, and let the parts slide, collide and click against one another: tracks like ‘Chinook,’ for instance. Other times we’re more of a single-pulse mind, like ‘Crash Course’ or ‘Plain Sight.’”
“If there is a tradition we take a page from, it would be akin to the Art Ensemble of Chicago or Instant Composers Pool,” says Hofbauer, “but obviously we don’t sound anything like them. We do value the idea of ‘instant composition’ in that we want to improvise tunes. We create forms and melodies that we develop, deconstruct and recapitulate just like a written work. We put a premium on timbre, contrast, dynamics and pulse in a way that can’t be easily linked to any given ‘style.’ Yet everything we do is connected to jazz and blues, and those languages are never out of our hearts, spirits or fingers.”