Guitarist and composer Eric Hofbauer is proud to release his new album Book of Water on his Boston-based label Creative Nation Music. On the guitarist’s 22nd project, a formidable frontline of horns comprising of tenor saxophonist Seth Meicht, trombonist Jeb Bishop and trumpeter Jerry Sabatini, join forces with the stellar rhythm section of guitarist Eric Hofbauer, bassist Nate McBride, and drummer Curt Newton to form the Five Agents. This classic jazz-sextet lineup delivers a technically stunning performance over intensely rigorous compositions, all the while maintaining the freewheeling, improvisatory aesthetic so crucial to the ensemble’s sound. The composer’s history with these musicians becomes evident when noting the marvelous interplay between the rhythm section instruments and the synchronicity that the horn players have over even the most improvisational sections of these dense pieces. “There are so many layers of connections between everyone,” Hofbauer remarks, “that the result is a band sound steeped in experience — relaxed, trusting, comfortable and intuitive.”
Recorded in front of a live studio audience, Book of Water, is part one of a multi-ensemble project that will be in five parts. Hofbauer first conceived of this multi-part odyssey in 2016 as the release of five books in album format, each “book” containing five movements or “chapters.” The composer drew the parallel between the concept of this project and the Chinese philosophical construct of the Wu Xing or the “Five Agents.” Through the five elements of wood, fire, earth, metal and water, Hofbauer states that this ancient text offers the reader “a way to navigate, organize and explain relationships in nature, between people, in medicine, design and music.” In a bold attempt to tackle questions about interconnectedness, impermanence and other ‘meaning of life’ conundrums that the artist deems apropos to this deeply improvisation-steeped art-form, Hofbauer allows himself to explore each of the five tenets of this ancient text in his own way, starting with “Book of Water.”
While the Wu Xing provides the framework for Hofbauer’s Five Agents project as a whole, the chapter titles on this release, Book of Water, were derived from the Ralph Waldo Emerson poem “Water.” Hofbauer notes “It’s uncanny how the lines match up with the pace, feel and emotional space of each part of the piece. Water is a power element — flowing, changing states, placid sometimes, deadly others. We explore those themes in the chapters and Emerson’s poem matches almost line by line.” Hofbauer draws from this poem a prescient perspective on climate change and the threat of rising seas. The artist states “Each of my books connect to a major societal issue that is in need of ‘movement.’ This is not a programmatic piece on climate change, nor is it a call to action per se, but a catalyst for dialogue, for posing questions.”
Hofbauer’s Prehistoric Jazz series featured both Sabatini and Newton and explored the music of Messiaen, Stravinsky, Ives and Ellington. The influences of these composers on Hofbauer’s composition can not be understated. One can’t help but notice hints of neoclassicism and serialism in his compositions, but these stately underpinnings are woven into the fabric of pieces that are deeply rooted in the jazz tradition. Staying true to the nature of water, Book of Water can be characterized as stylistically fluid. In one moment, the listener can be engaged with a piece sonically reminiscent to that of Nefertiti-Era Miles Davis like the very beginning of the first chapter “The Water Understands Civilization Well” and then next, they can be introduced to a dixieland-inspired passage. Throughout this fluidity, the compositions remain genuine and cohesive.
“The Water Understands Civilization Well” looks at water as a positive force. This upbeat swing portion of the suite offers energetic duet conversations in lieu of solo sections. Chapter 2: “It Wets, It Chills” explores the various states of water (particularly vapor and ice) as sound which allows for a more sparse, delicate textural exploration. Chapter 3: “It is not Disconcerted” is, according to Hofbauer, “An acknowledgement that water doesn’t care, it does what it does. This section has a carefree, funky spare beat, bassline and guitar riffs, unfettered by the ‘bubbles’ as I call them from the brass. The tenor melody literally rises out of all that, launching into the solos.”
“Well Used, Adorning Joy” explores an odd-metered bass ostinato, starting with beautiful chordal passages by Hofbauer accompanied by McBride’s static bass figure, the energy of the piece builds as the full ensemble joins in to add punchy melodic accents leading into a stunning solo by Hofbauer. The line “Elegantly Destroy,” which the final chapter is named after reminds the composer of the intention of this album, “If that isn’t a harbinger of how Boston will lose ground to the Atlantic in the coming decades I don’t know what is.” Says Hofbauer, “I love the word ‘elegantly’ in this line, because unlike human destruction, water will create something new with all the grace and beauty of nature.” This chapter offers by far the most dynamic exploration of different feels and timbre. Featuring a fantastic, driving solo by saxophonist Seth Meicht leading into a far more free section of minimalist interplay, this composition seems to embody the idea of destruction and elegant reconstruction on which The Book of Water is based.
Derived from liner notes written by David Adler.
MORE ABOUT ERIC HOFBAUER
Hofbauer has been an integral member of Boston’s jazz scene as a musician, bandleader, organizer and educator for the past twenty years. He has 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.
Hofbauer, recently recognized in the 2017 DownBeat Critics’ Poll for Rising Star – Guitar, is perhaps best known for his solo guitar work featured in a trilogy of solo guitar recordings (American Vanity, American Fear and American Grace). Of the trilogy, Andrew Gilbert of The Boston Globe writes, “No other guitarist in jazz has developed a solo approach as rigorous, evocative, and thoughtful as Hofbauer. His most recent solo release Ghost Frets, was described by Chris Haines of The Free Jazz Collective “as a real testament to Hofbauer’s musical style and vision…The playing is virtuosic throughout providing a real master class in creative solo performance.” Ghost Frets is a tribute to Hofbauer’s departed friend and frequent collaborator, Garrison Fewell, and features several Fewell compositions as well as pieces by diverse artists including Eric Dolphy, George Harrison, and the Psychedelic Furs!
Hofbauer has earned critical acclaim for his work in a variety of musical projects, including recordings with the Garrison Fewell’s Variable Density Orchestra, The Pablo Ablanedo Octet(o), Charlie Kohlhase’s Explorer’s Club, and The Blueprint Project with Han Bennink among others. Hofbauer’s two most recent projects, Pocket Aces (a “consciously compositional” improvising trio) and the Hofbauer/Rosenthal Quartet (a modern post bop outfit focused on original composition) both had debut releases in 2018. His primary ensemble is the Eric Hofbauer Quintet. The EHQ performs Hofbauer’s jazz arrangements of groundbreaking 20th century pieces which he describes as “prehistoric jazz.” These arrangements celebrate the common ground between modern jazz and the works of Stravinsky, Messiaen, Ellington, and Ives by using the shared rhythmic and harmonic concepts of the 20th century modernists as a bridge to postmodern jazz improvisation. In November of 2014 the EHQ recordings Prehistoric Jazz Volume 1 (The Rite of Spring) and Volume 2 (Quartet for The End of Time) were featured on NPR’s Fresh Air by noted jazz writer Kevin Whitehead. The 2016 release Prehistoric Jazz Volume 3 (Three Places in New England) and the 2017 release Prehistoric Jazz Volume 4 (Reminiscing in Tempo) were consecutively on the Boston Globe’s Top 10 Jazz Albums of the Year lists, as well as receiving critical acclaim from Downbeat, The Wire, Tone Audio and other press.
Hofbauer received a Master’s degree from New England Conservatory and a Bachelor’s degree from Oberlin Conservatory. Hofbauer teaches jazz theory, artist portfolio, chamber ensembles, a solo repertoire class, as well as guitar lessons as part of the graduate program in Jazz and Creative Music at the Longy School of Music at Bard College. For over 20 years he has taught jazz history at Emerson College. Hofbauer has also been visiting professor at Wellesley College, and faculty at Clark University and the University of Rhode Island. In 2009, he was honored with the Massachusetts Cultural Council Artist Fellowship in Music Composition.