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Guitarist Eric Hofbauer muses on the power and musicality of speech on new quintet release "Waking Up!"

Greta Thunberg’s famous “How Dare You!” speech provides rhythmic and narrative basis for an imaginative four-movement suite.


Featuring Hofbauer’s “Five Agents” band in a follow-up to

2018’s release Book of Water


Jerry Sabatini (trumpet), Seth Meicht (tenor sax),

Anthony Leva (bass), Curt Newton (drums),

Eric Hofbauer (guitar)


“The virtuosity displayed by Eric Hofbauer is staggering at times, but his acumen as a composer is even more impressive.”

Burning Ambulance

Release Date: September 15th, 2023

(Creative Nation Music)

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About the Recording

The global climate emergency was a major preoccupation when Boston-based guitarist and composer Eric Hofbauer released Book of Water in 2018. He based the album’s five track titles (e.g., “Water Understands Civilization Well,” “Ill Used, Elegantly Destroy”) on language from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s poem “Water.” He also envisioned a series of release concerts in cities threatened by rising seas, Boston being one of them.


Soon after, in 2019, the remarkable young climate activist Greta Thunberg delivered a speech at the UN Summit for Climate Action, in which she declared, “How dare you!” — throwing down a challenge to big business and world leaders to look beyond greed and meet the crisis head-on. Aside from being deeply moved and galvanized by the speech, the guitarist found himself drawn to the rhythms and phrases in Thunberg’s delivery and her distinctly non-native English.


The spark was lit for Waking Up!, Hofbauer’s newest project on his Creative Nation label: a reboot of the “Five Agents” ensemble from Book of Water, but with one less horn, and with Anthony Leva stepping in for Nate McBride on bass. Trumpeter Jerry Sabatini and drummer Curt Newton, close colleagues and veterans of many a Hofbauer-led project, are well-versed in his approach, bringing a wealth of tonal color and narrative focus to the set.


“Thunberg’s speech is so honest, blunt and authentic,” Hofbauer says, “and I think of her as an icon and inspiration for someone like my daughter and the younger generation, who have to bear the brunt of what’s coming. In her delivery there’s so much pain, frustration and worry. It’s very moving, and I wanted to use that emotional space as a jumping-off point for improvisation.”


As a start, Hofbauer took the first two to three minutes of the speech — up to the point of the now globally renowned pinnacle of “How Dare You!” — and transcribed it in full, paying close attention to rhythm and phrasing. “I found within it different tempos and meters, or rhythmic collections of syllables, and was able to create a palette from which to compose. I chopped it up into logical chunks where phrases or grooves felt connected, and I’d say, ‘Ok I’ll have a movement built off of this 20-second segment.’ She has a lot of groups of five, and a lot of triplet-type things when she speaks, which translates really well into a kind of polyrhythmic, flowing, behind-the-beat swinging feel that was really compelling to explore.”


The process from there was wide open, Hofbauer explains: “I might take a particular phrase and make it the bass line, or a comping pattern. It’s not a transcription where you line up her speech exactly — except in Part 4, where we do play the rhythm of ‘How Dare You!’ Other than that, it’s pretty abstracted.”


“Part 1: We’ll Be Watching” begins with the sound of the Earth. Eerie atmospheric sounds created by guitar and effects lead gradually to an off-kilter rhythmic dance introduced by Leva. The language is dissonant, polytonal, rooted in the theoretical concept of “the diamond” that Hofbauer has explored for years. This involves “stacking different keys related by minor or major 3rds, or whole steps,” he explains. “I also use parameter-based pitch set writing where I might create a pitch set and apply it to a rhythm of Thunberg’s, or a loop or part of the melody, particularly in Parts 1 and 2. For example, I give trumpet the pitch set forwards and tenor the same set backwards to work with. It creates counterpoint with seemingly random harmonies that actually are interconnected.” It also opens a wide improvisational terrain, to which Meicht and Sabatini respond eagerly with fierce solos throughout.


Hofbauer ends Part 1 with four minutes of angular and absorbing solo guitar to set the transition to “Part 2: For Hope.” A sequence of unaccompanied solos unfolds, linked by connective groove passages from the full quintet. You’ll also hear Hofbauer using extended techniques, creating rough timbres behind the bridge, related in a sense to his use of echo, reverse and freeze pedals as well as overdrives and distortions of varying severity to expand the sonic palette.


Following the mysterious chorale-like chamber passage ending Part 2, Sabatini takes up plunger mute for “Part 3: Nostalgia Is a Form of Denial, or The Poly-Crisis Blues.” This is the greasy movement, a slow shuffle in Ab with melodic material drawn from A minor pentatonic. “The plunger mute has a long history in jazz of connecting the trumpet to vocal tradition,” Hofbauer remarks. “It’s about going over the top and being almost sublimely ridiculous, finding humor in it all. Since this whole suite is coming from a vocal source, the plunger just fits. My instruction to Seth, who just had the chords, was: ‘What if Lester Young improvised an accompaniment but could only remember Albert Ayler fingerings?’ For Curt, I said: ‘What if Baby Dodds had to play Louis Jordan’s ‘Mop Mop’ while pausing occasionally to do a shot of bourbon?’ We’ve worked together for so many years and I trust everyone’s musical choices so deeply that sometimes it is more satisfying to create scenarios or questions that get solved in the performance, rather than conventional jazz arranging approaches.”


“Part 4: How Dare You!” is introduced by Leva solemnly alone, “the calm before the storm” as Hofbauer describes it. “This is a weird hard-bop tune that starts from a space of comfortable and gets to uncomfortable as we build to the rhythmic climax of ‘How Dare You!’ It’s the singular moment in the suite where I take the speech syllable by syllable and transcribe it exactly: ‘and all you can think about is the money, and the fairy tales of eternal economic growth.’ The band repeats that phrase three times and it builds and builds, until we all play ‘How Dare You!’ together. When Thunberg says it, she inhales at the end of her sentence. I wanted to capture the frailty of that inhale with the trumpet and guitar.”


The suite ends with a relaxed hip-hop-inspired groove as the band gradually fades. “And so we’re back to the beginning, the sound of planet Earth,” Hofbauer says, pointing to the very same eerie sounds and loops that opened Part 1. “That looper sound is supposed to be Earth drifting off into space. On a universal timescale the planet will be fine. We just won’t be on it.”


As bleak a thought as that is, Hofbauer wanted to introduce his own note of hope, “this idea of moving forward, waking up, having something positive come from the crisis. I’m not the type of activist who’s able to be at the front lines of protest with direct action, let alone more radical tactics. But I do use my artistic voice to open space for contemplation and conversation. For example, when we premiered this suite live it was a multimedia event. There were photos projected behind us, and future concerts will feature the work of photographer Peter Gumaskas who shot the album cover. A lot of his nature photography depicts the conflict with humankind. We also had at the premiere several organizations that set up tables at the back of the venue, so people could walk through and explore various options for navigating climate change from a global scale to a local scale. I want to use performance as a space for waking up, engaging with the idea of climate activism and how to live in this new world.”

About The Quintet

ERIC HOFBAUER is the chair of Jazz and Contemporary Music at Longy School of Music of Bard College, where he teaches jazz theory, chamber ensembles, solo repertoire class, guitar lessons and more. For over 20 years he has taught jazz history at Emerson College. He has performed and recorded alongside such notables as Roy Campbell, Jr., John Tchicai, Cecil McBee, George Garzone and Matt Wilson. His varied projects include solo guitar (American Vanity, American Fear and American Grace as well as the 2016 release Ghost Frets); his Prehistoric Jazz quintet (interpreting music of Stravinsky, Messiaen, Ives and Ellington); his duos with Dylan Jack (Remains of Echoes) and Anthony Leva (Book of Fire, part two of his ongoing “Five Agents” series); and the “consciously compositional” improvising trio Pocket Aces. He’s earned acclaim for his work with Garrison Fewell’s Variable Density Orchestra, the Dylan Jack Quartet, the Pablo Ablanedo Octet(o), Charlie Kohlhase’s Explorer’s Club and The Blueprint Project with Han Bennink, among others.

JERRY SABATINI has gained recognition in the Boston jazz scene as an adventurous, creative and diverse trumpet player, composer and educator. Known for his diverse musical tastes, Jerry performs in projects ranging from traditional Jazz to Balkan brass bands to music of the Middle and Far East to the Avant Garde. For the past twenty five years he has been working with many of the New England’s great bands such as The Boston Jazz Composer’s Alliance, The Makanda Project, Garrison Fewell’s Variable Density Orchestra, Mehmet Sanlikol’s Dunya, The Revolutionary Snake Ensemble, and Charlie Kohlhase’s Explorers Club. He has also shared the stage with influential musicians such as Oliver Lake, John Tchicai, Fred Frith, Elliot Sharp, Anthony Coleman, and Erkan Oğur. Since 1995, Jerry has composed and arranged for his own project, an octet called Sonic Explorers. Sonic Explorers have four independently released CDs. Sabatini has been commissioned for modern big band and jazz combo works, teaches privately, and is a frequent clinician and conductor at New England colleges, universities and high schools.

SETH MEICHT is Boston based saxophonist, composer, and educator. Nate Chinen, from The New York Times says, “Meicht is a tenor saxophonist with a robust tone and a venturesome streak, though he isn’t averse to swinging.” Since arriving in Boston by way of New York City and Philadelphia, Seth performs regularly with the areas top creative musicians. Projects include Seth Meicht and the Big Sound Ensemble, Charlie Kohlhase’s Explorers Club, and Eric Hofbauer’s 5 Agents. Select recordings include Seth Meicht and the Big Sound Ensemble: Live in Philadelphia (CIMPol), Illumine (CIMP), Loud Like Hemlocks (Scrapple Records). Seth spent several years working with his mentor Odean Pope in Philadelphia and New York. As a member of Odean’s world famous Saxophone Choir, Seth can be heard on the recording Locked and Loaded: Live and the Blue Note (Half Note) with guests James Carter, Joe Lovano, and Michael Brecker. Seth has been fortunate to share the stage and ideas with several other influential artists such as Ravi Coltrane, Byard Lancaster, Bobby Zankel, Darius Jones, Mike Pride, and Steve Swell. In addition to performances and the Blue Note in New York, Seth has performed at the Vision Festival, Montreal Jazz Festival, Charlie Parker Jazz Festival, The Stone, and the Kimmel Center (Philadelphia), as well as many top clubs and performance spaces in Philadelphia, New York, and Boston.


CURT NEWTON (drums) coaxes whispers from drumsets and swing from stacks of rattly stuff, weaving varied musical traditions together in the spirit of serious playfulness. Over the past three decades, Curt has performed across the U.S., Canada and Europe and appears on over 30 CDs with some of contemporary music's leading figures including Ken Vandermark, Joe Morris, Nate McBride, Pandelis Karayorgis, Charlie Kohlhase, Dave Bryant, and Steve Norton, and most recently as the drummer in the Eric Hofbauer Quintet. About one live performance, the Chicago Reader’s Peter Margasak wrote “Newton dazzles...He exhibited breathtaking restraint, breaking down time with a subtle hand, tapping out painterly splashes of sound." Curt studied privately with Bob Gullotti, has a Master's degree in Jazz Performance from New England Conservatory, and once upon a time created a solo drumset arrangement of Lutoslawski's String Quartet (available on Bandcamp). Curt is also a climate change community builder and activist, and the proud parent of two musically-inclined young adults.

ANTHONY LEVA is a multi-disciplinary artist & educator in Cambridge, MA. Most comfortable on upright bass, Anthony regularly performs with the Unima Award winning puppetry troupe, the Gottabees, as well as the Dylan Jack Quartet, Charlie Kohlhase’s Explorer’s Club, Eric Hofbauer, Brian Carpenter, Samodivi and Jaggery. He is an active collaborator in the Boston Art’s scene where his omnivorous appetite for creativity and collaboration spans theatre, film, puppetry, folk music (Americana, African, and Balkan), as well as jazz, improvised and classical music. In addition to bass, Anthony also plays sintir (a North African bass lute). Anthony has recorded over 30 albums to date. 2020 promises to be an exciting year with three albums slated for release within the first two months. These albums include: Having it Out with Melancholy (self-release), A song cycle set to the Poems of Jane Kenyon; music composed by Michael Veloso and performed by Jaggery (a Boston based art rock collective); The Tale of the Twelve-Foot Man (Creative Nation Music); music performed by the Dylan Jack Quartet, and, making his debut on turntables and the SP 303 sampler is Book of Fire (Creative Nation Music), a duo album with Eric Hofbauer in which their acoustic performance is augmented by the addition of electronic instrumentation and the intertwined recordings of literary giant James Baldwin.

Eric Hofbauer is available for interview

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Chris DiGirolamo


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phone: 631-298-7823

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