By: Phil Freeman, Stereogum

Eric Hofbauer’s Five Agents, Book Of Water (Creative Nation Music)

Guitarist Eric Hofbauer is best known for his Prehistoric Jazz series, on which he creates chamber-jazz interpretations of early 20th century classical pieces like Igor Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring or Charles Ives’ Three Places in New England. His new project, Five Agents, is inspired by the Chinese philosophical construct of Wu Xing and its Five Agents (or Five Elements): wood, fire, earth, metal, and water. Book of Water is the first in the series, recorded with a group featuring trumpeter Jerry Sabatini, tenor saxophonist Seth Meicht, trombonist Jeb Bishop, bassist Nate McBride, and drummer Curt Newton. Sabatini and Newton played on all four Prehistoric Jazz albums, so they’re very familiar with Hofbauer’s methods and style. “Water Understands Civilization Well,” the album’s opening track, is a fast, jumpy piece with plenty of polyphonic interplay and competition among the horns, each man attempting to both comment on what the others are doing and make his own statement, in a “Yeah, but have you considered…” sort of way. Hofbauer’s guitar sounds homemade, his notes pinging and dragging like a slightly more down-home version of Mary Halvorson.

Curtis Nowosad, Curtis Nowosad (Sessionheads United)

Drummer Curtis Nowosad’s third album as a leader features a core band of trumpeter Duane Eubanks, alto saxophonist Braxton Cook, guitarist Andrew Renfroe, and bassist Luke Sellick, with guests (trombonist Corey Wallace, several keyboardists, and a couple of singers) popping up on one or two tracks here and there. The music is slick and funky, but there’s a sharp edge to it; the album opens with a version of Gil Scott-Heron’s “Home Is Where The Hatred Is,” and though it’s an instrumental, “Never Forget What They Did To Fred Hampton” is a biting title for a piece of music. Wallace and Renfroe team up for the quick-footed melody, before Eubanks takes off on a high-flying solo as Nowosad drives him forward with a hard-swinging backbeat. When the guitarist gets his turn in the spotlight, he makes the most of it with distortion and fierce bent phrases.

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