Even if you haven't heard the John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble, you might think you have its sound pegged. It's an 18-piece big band, after all, one that's twice been nominated for a Grammy in the jazz category, most recently for its acclaimed 2009 album Eternal Interlude."
But jazz fans coming to the group's show at REDCAT Monday night looking for the familiar structures of, say, last month's performance at Walt Disney Concert Hall by the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra might be surprised. Co-leader and drummer for the Claudia Quintet, Hollenbeck pulled the ensemble together in New York City some 10 years ago as a response to some of his big band experiences.
I saw some things that could be done that weren't being done," Hollenbeck said by phone from New York days before the ensemble began its first West Coast tour. I thought there might be some other possibilities with a group that still has traditional instrumentation but the music itself is not traditional."
Under Hollenbeck's lead, the Large Ensemble's songs can carry a cinematic drive or ebb and flow with the elliptical grace of modern classical music. Batteries of brass circulate in taut bunches, churning like steam engines or delicately mingling with piano, percussion and otherworldly vocals in pieces that can stretch to almost 20 minutes but never lose forward momentum. Improvisation is present, but treated like a scarce resource.