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«Drummer John Hollenbeck is one of the best and least-heralded composers in jazz, and his experience ranks among the most diverseeven in an eclectic age.»

— Martin Johnson, Wall Street Journal


Letters to George(OOYH 018), due out January 27,2023, is the debut recording of drummer/composer/bandleader-extraordinaireJohn Hollenbeck and his brand new band GEORGE, featuring Anna Webber, Aurora Nealand, and Chiquita Magic. Pre-GEORGE Hollenbeck had two main creative outlets for his composing and drumming (both still active to varying degrees): The Claudia Quintet,his long-standing band featuring Chris Speed, Drew Gress, Matt Moran, and Red Wierenga, has been redefining jazz for the last 25years. And the GRAMMY-nominated John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble, a 19-piece big band assembled in 2005, whose lineup reads asa who’s-who of modern creative jazz (notable members are Theo Bleckmann, Matt Mitchell, Patricia Brennan, Tony Malaby, AnnaWebber, to name just a few). So a new band, and the first one in 17-years, is kind of a big deal for Hollenbeck, and for jazz fans acrossthe world. On a personal note, this is a very special album for me (Adam Hopkins) to have as part of the OOYH Records catalog. Johnhas been a bit of a mentor to me since subbing for Drew Gress in the Claudia Quintet on a 2017 tour, when I saw firsthand what anincredible band leader he is, as well as his complete devotion to this music. I can say without hesitation that there is not a singleelement of this recording, or this new band, that does not receive the utmost attention to detail or careful consideration from John.


Hollenbeck formed GEORGE with three specific musicians in mind, all whom he admired and wanted to play with, but none of whoknew each other well before they remotely recorded PROOF OF CONCEPT in March 2021. This track was essentiallya test to see howthe band sounded, and how they worked together (spoiler: it worked). The recording session forLetters toGeorgetook place inMontreal in January of 2022. It was the first time the quartet even set foot in the same room, and they immediately coalesced into whatwas very obviously going to be John Hollenbeck’s next trailblazing band. All four members of GEORGE are skilled improvisers withouta doubt, but they come together from three different corners of the music world; Hollenbeck and Webber are very much a part of thesame orbit from the Brooklyn creative music scene (they are the only two members of GEORGE with a prior musical history), Nealandis at the forefront of the revival of New Orleans Traditional Jazz, and Chiquita Magic’s solo releases are described as futuristic popusing microtonal synths, voice, and drum machines. The fruits of this exceptional combination of musicians proves Hollenbeck to bepart of an esteemed lineage of jazz bandleaders, think Charles Mingus, Duke Ellington, and Miles Davis, who write for specific musicalpersonalities to express their singular vision. To me, GEORGE draws more than a few parallels to the second great Miles Davis Quintet(Claudia being the “first”). The sum is greater than the parts, but the parts (all bandleaders in their own right) each have a unique voicethat shines brightly as part of the ensemble, and GEORGE is overflowing with the distinct musical personalities of each of its fourmembers.


That all being said, calling GEORGE a jazz band misses the mark a bit. For starters, if you see GEORGE perform live you’ll notice thatno one is reading music, a very conscious decision by Hollenbeck. On that, he says “The idea when I was writing was that [thecompositions] could be taught without needing any notation, which greatly affects all different parts of the pieces. I know some people inthe band don’t really even know what time signature [each piece] is written in. They have their own relationship to the music. So, that’skinda cool. I love that.” When I saw GEORGE in Richmond on their first tour in March 2022, they presented the music very much as arock band would, but with twists and turns touching on synth-pop, full-on extended jazz solos, super tight synth-bass/drum grooves, andanything else that might be a part of any one band member’s distinctive background. Is it jazz? Sure, but it is a whole lot of other thingsas well. What is important is that this music is new, it is futuristic, it will make you think but also make you dance, and it is a band thatwe can only hope will be making music together for the next 17-25 years. Letters to George is just thebeginning for GEORGE.





Sarah Chaksad

+ 41 79 427 82 66

Jonas Winterhalter

+ 49 176 931 480 32

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