Modern jazz with a heavy focus on the atmospheric would probably be the simplest way to describe The Claudia Quintet who hail from New York. In fact after listening to this disc in its entirety more than once I couldn't help but comparing them, and I hate comparing bands in general but people need a reference point right? Anyway as I listened, the name that kept coming to mind was veteran indie rockers Tortoise. The band is drummer and songwriter John Hollenbeck's baby and while he provides plenty of interesting moments with his infectious groves, he does have very strong material and a great band in front of him to help deliver his musical vision.
The sound on this disc reminds one of all the classic elements that the jazz genre has to offer but as music evolves so has jazz, something The Claudia Quintet has definitely embraced with open arms. The band is able to weave some of the finer elements of electronic music into passages of their music with great ease and you'd swear some of these tracks were actually composed for a long lost film score. Instruments such as the clarinet, accordion and vibes provide nice depth and propel the songs in fabulous fashion. The vibe workout in "They point..glance..whisper..then snicker" courtesy of Matt Moran is a fine example of this as is the acordian frenzy by Ted Reichman on "Two Teachers". There are fine contributions from the other two players in the quintet as well courtesy of Drew Gess who handles the guitars and bass while Chris Speed tackles clarinet and saxes along with some piano.
There is a lot to be excited about on Semi-Formal, the material is refreshing and never repetitive and the performances from the band itself are top notch. As mentioned there is enough of the 'classic' jazz element to be found in the music but when you combine that with some of the darker, moodier landscapes the band creates you are left with something entirely different and this in my mind is where the main strength of The Claudia Quintet lies. It should be interesting to see where they take their music from here.
1. Major Nelson
4. They point..glance..whisper..then snicker
5. Bindi binder
7. Two Teachers
9. Limp mint
11.Where's my mint? (mint=president)
12.Boy with a bag and his guarded elephant