The Claudia Quintet - Royal Toast (Cuneiform, 2010) ****½
The Claudia Quintet keeps exploring its own jazz subgenre, flirting with the cinematic, with prog rock, chamber music, classical influences and jazz, to make a great mixture of rhythmic, melodic and atmospheric delight, clever and subtle. The stellar band includes leader John Hollenbeck on percussion, Ted Reichman on accordion, Chris Speed on clarinet and tenor saxophone, Matt Moran on vibes, Drew Gress on bass, and Gary Versace guest starring on piano. The latter's contribution to the overall sound is quite successful, adding his own nice touches as on the eery "Ideal Intro".
Every tune is a little compositional gem, full of unexpected twists and turns, strong forward motion, and long melodic lines, and tight arrangements. Interspersed among the composed pieces, there are four duels of musicians against themselves : "Ted versus Ted", "Drew with Drew", "Matt on Matt", and "Chris and Chris", short reactions on recorded improvisations, fun by themselves, and small fun interludes, but the real weight lies in the great gastronomical menu of tunes that Hollenbeck serves us : the food is fresh and rich, varied, with lots of ingredients, soft on the palate and easy to digest. Forget about the "toast" in the title. It all sounds simple, but it is not.
Even if the music is a little too controlled to my taste, it is of a rare level of sophistication, quality and class. Without a doubt the "quintet's" best so far.