WBGO: John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble, “Elf”

WBGO: John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble, “Elf”


The drummer and composer John Hollenbeck has long had a kaleidoscopic outlet in his Large Ensemble, one of the most advanced big bands on the scene. All Can Work— Hollenbeck’s latest album, just out on New Amsterdam — bears a dedication to the trumpeter Laurie Frink, an anchor in the band before her death in 2013.

But this track, “Elf,” is a tribute to Billy Strayhorn. In fact, it’s a Strayhorn composition — “Elf” being the original title for the piece most of us know as “Isfahan,” from Duke Ellington’s Far East Suite. Reconceived in a polyrhythmic 12/8 meter, this arrangement was commissioned by the Chicago Jazz Festival for Strayhorn’s centennial a couple of years ago. It features a knockout soprano saxophone solo by Tony Malaby, followed by some articulate annotations by pianist Matt Mitchell.