Album: Book of Fire
Street Date: January 31, 2020
Label: Creative Nation Music

Book of Fire is the second album in the Eric Hofbauer's Wu Xing (Five Agents) Series, Hofbauer’s musical depiction of every part of the ancient Chinese schematic of the Five Agents, or Five Elements.  Book of Fire is the gripping follow-up to Hofbauer’s June 2019 sextet album Book of Water.  Book of Fire, a stark contrast from Hofbauer’s last release, was conceived in a duo format with Anthony Leva on upright bass.  The duo’s acoustic performance is augmented by the addition of electronic instrumentation and the intertwined recordings of literary giant James Baldwin. The result is an intense amalgam of consonance and texture; tradition and innovation.

Integrating unlikely instrumentation on this release, Hofbauer plays not only his customary Guild archtop guitar but also drum machine and sampler (the Akai MPC1000) and in addition to upright bass, Leva is on turntables throughout this release.  Regarding his use of sampling and other electronics, Hofbauer notes “I’m certainly nowhere near a hip-hop producer, I don’t make beats that way, I don’t know how,” Hofbauer states. “Instead I got together with the drummers I work with frequently — Curt Newton, Dylan Jack and Austin McMahon — and I recorded them. I also recorded some of Tony’s bass notes and lines, myself on guitar and also some auxiliary percussion, put it all together into a sequence bank and started creating beats and sounds, chopping up four-bar phrases into other things in odd meters, mixing and matching and layering so basically every drum beat I came up with is like a ‘super-drummer’ comprised of the grooves and sounds of three of my favorite drummers.”

Hofbauer’s Wu Xing series will ultimately cover every part of the ancient Chinese schematic of the Five Agents, or Five Elements. We’ve now had water and fire; wood, metal and earth are still to come. Each one speaks to a particular social/political reality in need of “movement,” as Hofbauer puts it. Book of Water touched on the problem of climate change, and now Book of Fire arrives with sobering reflections on racial inequality.  

The Book of Fire suite is made up of five chapters.  The title of the first chapter, “Courting Madness” refers to a James Baldwin passage from the novel Giovanni’s Room.  This acoustic blues acts as a vehicle for the use of a drum machine and improvisation by Hofbauer.  On the coalescence of his music and Baldwin’s speech, Hofbauer indicates “His sense of space, his mastery of the dramatic pause, his cadence and patterns are deeply musical,” Hofbauer observes. “It’s rhythmic, it’s got its own kind of groove and swing that fit perfectly with the music. It was serendipitous how perfectly his text fit with the beats and pulse and integrated immediately.”

The textural musings of “Pray for Rain” are adorned with James Baldwin’s playful literary-musical analysis of Bessie Smith.  This track sees the improvisation on a written theme coinciding with Hofbauer’s use of an echo effect allowing him to produce otherworldly sounds from his instrument.  In fact, Book of Fire is Hofbauer’s first recording to date that features him using any guitar effects at all.  The artist uses them strategically and sparingly, but with forceful, dramatic results. “History is the Present” is a purely instrumental exploration; a duet between turntables and acoustic guitar.  Hofbauer creates layers of blues-fueled texture on “Something Gives”, an impassioned combination of slide guitar and a fuzz-distortion tone.  Seemingly the climax of the release, this fiery track spirals into entropy alongside the bold and beautiful words of James Baldwin and Bobby Seale.

The final chapter of Book of Fire,Terrible and Beautiful,” emerges “out of the ashes and the smoke,” Hofbauer says, after Chapter Four’s enormous energy release.  Here is where “things start to rebuild and reform,” he continues, “with a new positive but mindful way to move forward.”  Baldwin’s words in Chapter 5 are from a prepared speech he delivered to young people, imparting wisdom about “the terrible storm that is life, terrible and beautiful, but you must know that it is both.” Hofbauer notes that fire, too, is terrible and beautiful, and so for that matter is water.  Book of Fire, Hofbauer and Leva’s sonic exploration and foray into the realm of electronic instrumentation, can be described as a meditation on the state of racial inequality in our country, a catalyst for dialogue, for posing questions.

Album: Remains of Echoes
Street Date: October 18, 2019
Label: Creative Nation Music

Eric Hofbauer and Dylan Jack are proud to present the release of their upcoming duo album Remains of Echoes to be released October 18th on Hofbauer’s Creative Nation Music label.  This assemblage of renditions of songs written by iconic composers offers a daring exploration into the collective sonancy of guitar and drum.  A concept album of sorts, Remains of Echoes delves into the material that had a formative influence on both percussionist Dylan Jack and guitarist Eric Hofbauer.  The goal of the Boston-area improvisers upon recording this album was to highlight the influences that were pivotal for the growth of both musicians, drawing a line from Ellington to Charlie Parker, Monk to Mingus, Miles to Ornette and Don Cherry. And not only those, but also Hendrix to the Police to Jackson Browne.

“We wanted an album entirely of covers, but very specific ones,” says Hofbauer, “they’re songs from our mentors or heroes, or songs by bands and composers that influenced us at pivotal moments. They’re stories with a deep narrative connection to our own development as lovers of music. It’s a celebration, a connection with the past… It’s about being part of a continuum in history” he adds.  The title of this release, Remains of Echoes, was taken from Jimi Hendrix’s “Up From the Skies” in which the rock legend poses the question, “Is it just remains of vibrations and echoes long ago?”  On Remains of Echoes, Hofbauer and Jack offer themselves and their performances as remains of the echoes of their idols, and the fervent vibrations of their guitar strings and drum heads bring out the echoes of the past through re-exploration of the music of yesteryear.

The album, recorded at Rotary Records in Springfield MA, begins with the duo’s take on The Police’s “Walking on the Moon”.  The full sound of this track speaks to the chord-melody prowess of Hofbauer and the rhythmic ingenuity of Jack.  According to Jack: “My approach on this record was to be a solo percussionist/drummer in order to get as much music as I could out of the instrument. Whether I was playing melodies, soloing or supporting Eric, I tried to surround his playing with different registers, timbres, density and space.”  

The duo’s exploration of “African Flower” by Duke Ellington celebrates the iconic 1962 trio recording “Money Jungle”, the recording which brought the song to fame, with a rendition that echoes from 1962 to 2019.  The counterpoint of Hofbauer’s bassline and melody in conjunction with Jack’s timbreal musings on the drum kit make for a fresh take on the timeless Ellington classic. Hofbauer notes that the unique instrumentation of the album demands a closer examination and utilization of the low end of his instrument.  “With Dylan adding pieces to his kit,” Hofbauer states “tuned bass drums and floor toms, also covering bass line-type ostinatos— we worked together to highlight the essence of bass frequency minus the bass.”

Hofbauer performs a solo cover of Jackson Browne’s “These Days” where he offers a raw, playful take on the bluesy track. This track is dedicated to his father-in-law who passed away in 2017.  “Using slide guitar is a way for me to express that strong emotional pull that always draws me back to the blues,” Hofbauer declares. “That expressiveness and that timbre. My father-in-law was a big fan of California bands, especially the Beach Boys and all the artists that were their heirs, including Jackson Browne, so the piece covers a lot of very personal emotional ground. I wanted to celebrate my father-in-law and express my sadness for his loss. It celebrates music that he loved but in a deeply personal way that can help me grieve and honor him.”  The finale of the album is Miles Davis’ classic “Nardis” which was made popular by pianist Bill Evans.  This reimagination of the standard sees the Boston duo experimenting with time and timbre in a way that is fitting to the quiet intensity of the piece.  

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Album: Book of Water
Street Date: June 14, 2019 
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.

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For Book of Fire

JASON CRANE
THE JAZZ SESSION
Listen to the full interview here.

 

STUART MUNRO
BOSTON GLOBE
Show preview here.

TODD MANNING
BURNING AMBULANCE
"The virtuosity displayed by Eric Hofbauer is staggering at times, but his acumen as a composer is even more impressive. Despite the varied influences and elements at play, Book of Fire is both remarkably coherent yet sonically unpredictable."
Full review here.

For Remains of Echoes

DAVID SHEEHAN
DORCHESTER REPORT
 
"Guitarist  Eric Hofbauer and drummer/percussionist Dylan Jack get together for a collection of ten intuitive interpretations of jazz and rock classics."
Read the full review here.

GEORGE W. HARRIS
JAZZ WEEKLY
"Guitarist  Eric Hofbauer and drummer/percussionist Dylan Jack get together for a collection of ten intuitive interpretations of jazz and rock classics."
Read the full review here.

RON SCHEPPER
texutra
“Most assuredly, the pieces the Boston-based duo selected are ones that resonated across the years and therefore qualify as echoes of a deeply personal kind. But the performances aren't merely sentimental journeys: they're statements that very clearly capture who these players are now, even if the material covered profoundly influenced their respective developments as players and persons.” Read the full review here.

TROY DOSTERT
ALL ABOUT JAZZ
"Always attuned to unusual choices that keep his listeners guessing, guitarist Eric Hofbauer knows no bounds when it comes to his repertoire...This unpredictable creativity is once again on display on Remains of Echoes, an enticing duo release with drummer Dylan Jack, that features Hofbauer's prodigious technique and distinctive genre-crossing acumen." Review here. 

JIM HYNES
MAKING A SCENE
“Guitarist Eric Hofbauer and percussionist Dylan Jack have put together an album of one of the most eclectic mix of covers ever.” Read the full review here.

DEE DEE MCNEIL
MUSICAL MEMOIRS
"This is a unique listening experience that combs through the great music of iconic musicians and sweeps us up into a pompadour of sound and intriguing creativity." Review here

For Book of Water

JASON BIVINS
POINT OF DEPARTURE
"Hofbauer comps incisively, one of many seemingly independent voices, from pinwheeling brass exchanges to scalar tenor, all flowing together inexorably."  Read the full review here.

DUCK BAKER
THE ABSOLUTE SOUND
"Hofbauer may remind the listener at times of such other guitarists as Bill Frisell, Marc Ribot, or Derek Bailey, but close listening proves him a truly original guitarist." Four star review here

J.D. CONSIDINE
JAZZTIMES
"...Hofbauer has such a simpatico team, with solid soloists in every chair, but it’s the overall rigor of the guitarist’s vision that makes The Book of Water an elemental success." Read the full review here

MIKE JURKOVIC
ALL ABOUT JAZZ
"Hofbauer brings his intuitive improvisatory flair to five lengthy tracks, trickling, rushing, presenting a narrative that questions, searches, and alights on the time honed belief that together we persevere."  Read the full review here.

PHIL FREEMAN
STEREOGUM
“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.  Read the full review here.

FILIPE FREITAS
JAZZTRAIL
"Hofbauer reveals himself as a creative composer capable of integrating exacting composition and tactical flexibility with dogged determination." Read the full review here.

DANIELE CAMERLENGO
SUONO (ITALY)
Read the full Italian review here.

JEROME WILSON
ALL ABOUT JAZZ
BEST OF 2019
"This is a thrilling ride that rolls, swirls and crashes like an elemental force."  Read the full 4 star review here.

BRIAN MORTON
JAZZ JOURNAL
"A remarkable recording: demanding at first listen, but intensely communicative, urgent and funky in its way." Read the full review here

GEORGE HARRIS
JAZZ WEEKLY
"Recorded in studio before an audience, the music keeps your attention, and some of the sounds beg for a visual accompaniment." Read the full review here

DEE DEE MCNEIL
MUSICAL MEMOIRS
"This is avant-garde jazz that features the freewheeling, improvisational, aesthetic that binds together this innovative ensemble’s sound." Read the full review here.