Whenever he can, however, Hollenbeck performs with his Large Ensemble. The music that he has written for the big formation is perhaps his most ambitious to date, and requires top-notch reading and improvisational skills from all involved. The core of the ensemble is the traditional jazz big band, with trumpet, trombone, and saxophone sections, but the way Hollenbeck uses these resources bears little resemblance to conventional jazz writing. Following in the path of his teacher Bob Brookmeyer, Hollenbeck mixes instruments from different sections and requires his woodwind players to double on multiple instruments, allowing him to create many different ensemble timbres and colors. He also adds other sounds, from various percussion and electronic instruments, or from less traditional instruments such as the English horn. His compositions rarely swing in the accepted manner; rather, unusual layered rhythms, propulsion, and drive are built up with walls of sound, pulsation, and repetition. He occasionally includes the human voice as an element of the ensemble, singing or reciting poetry or even prose, such as excerpts from the Sufi master Hazrat Inayat Khan's teachings on sound. The two existing recordings of this music demonstrate the progress of his orchestral concepts, and the most recent, Eternal Interlude, was even unexpectedly nominated for a Grammy last year, a rare accomplishment for such ambitious music.
Saturday, October 2, the last day of this year's Edgefest, will be a virtual Hollenbeck-fest as he plays with Curtis Hasselbring's combo, leads the U-M Big Band in performances of his Large Ensemble compositions, and then appears with his Claudia Quintet.
[Originally published in September, 2010.]