FROM THE LINER NOTES - It’s gratifying to see young jazz bandleaders of our day reinvent the music of Shostakovich, Webern, Ligeti, Machaut and others. For Boston-based guitarist Eric Hofbauer, who in 2014 confronted monumental works by Stravinsky and Messiaen on Prehistoric Jazz, Vols. 1 & 2, the goal was not a melding of genres or a salute to “serious” music in general, but rather a puzzling over matters of timbre and instrumentation, improvisational pathways and harmonic implications specific to these composers and not others. The orchestrations were rigorous yet everywhere was the spark of the unexpected. Hofbauer’s take on the encounter of European modernism with the America of blues and jazz follows in the best tradition of Joplin, James P. Johnson and all that came after.
That holds true once again for Prehistoric Jazz, Vol. 3, devoted to Charles Ives’ Three Places in New England, a masterpiece of bracing modernism that the Connecticut sage completed in 1914 and revised in 1929. Ives’ sound world — deeply mysterious, irreverent, dissonant in the extreme — is kindred in spirit to the “prehistoric jazz” that Leonard Bernstein once spoke about in Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du printemps, and that Hofbauer extrapolated on Prehistoric Jazz, Vol. 2 to include Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time. Moreover, Ives’ appropriation of plantation songs, military marches and other vernacular sources is itself jazz-like. And Three Places, inspired as it is by Revolutionary and Civil War monuments as well as natural scenes in and around Ives’ native Connecticut, amounts to a meditation on America’s past and future — something about which jazz has quite a lot to say.
Naturally, Three Places is a three-movement work; the first movement is just under nine minutes, the second six minutes and the last roughly four. In this chamber-jazz quintet treatment by Hofbauer, the first two movements grow to an improvisation-heavy 17 minutes, the third to just under six. “I created in each piece a series of guidelines and goals,” Hofbauer explains, “instructions to help keep the improvisations on track and connected to the stories and emotional places of each movement.” As models, Hofbauer cites the streamlined compositional approach of Kind of Blue but also various concepts from the Art Ensemble of Chicago and Henry Threadgill.
Perhaps to an even greater extent than the Stravinsky and Messiaen albums, Hofbauer’s Three Places benefits from a robust, pure acoustic studio sound and crystal-clear separation of voices. “This piece is about folk music and melodies,” says Hofbauer, “and there needs to be an intimacy at the center of each movement. The acoustic guitar captures that closeness, addressing the American-ness and nostalgia, while also providing a more pointed and percussive attack when needed to highlight the nuanced timbral language of specifically African-American music vocabularies.”