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Album review: ‘All Can Work’ 

John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble

“All Can Work”

New Amsterdam Records

John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble’s “All Can Work” was released back in January, but it’s still hard to pin down. Conducted by JC Sanford, the music isn’t exactly jazz, and it’s not quite contemporary classical; abstract elements of world music are nearly impossible to trace back to a single source. Genre labels do no good here.

The title track finds Eastman School of Music alumnus, percussionist, and composer Hollenbeck building a monolithic sound sculpture from the ground up, layer by layer. Horns intone solemnly, before vocalist Theo Bleckmann and the woodwinds chime in with an airier, if still ambiguous mood. The lyrics — penned by the band’s late trumpeter Laurie Frink — take on an optimistic, carefree tone, as the music escalates toward an ingeniously bleary climax and the brass instruments seem to close in on one another.

Middle Eastern-style melodies and Latin American rhythms coexist on the effervescent “Elf,” while “Heyoke” features Bleckmann singing a kind of organized scat through the orchestral din of Hollenbeck’s free-flowing, 21-member band. The nonverbal vocalizations continue with “this kiss,” in which Bleckmann frequently disappears into unison with the instrumental melodies.

Hollenbeck’s compositions are inherently restless and endlessly busy, bordering on frantic surrealism at times. It’s as if the bandleader is painting a vertigo-inducing network of bustling city streets that somehow lead both everywhere and nowhere. And that’s a good thing. The sound space is often congested, but the effect is thrilling rather than claustrophobic. “All Can Work” is an album bubbling with creative energy and deserving of repeat listens.

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