Turning Point Ensemble forges the Fifth Stream at jazz fest

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      Popularized in the late 1950s, Third Stream music aspired to a synthesis of classical form and jazz freedom, and sometimes got there: check out the historic recordings of Jimmy Giuffre, John Lewis, and the term’s inventor, Gunther Schuller, for proof.

      And now, 60 years later, we’re witnessing the arrival of the Fifth Stream, or at least that’s the aim of a new collaboration between the Turning Point Ensemble and the Vancouver International Jazz Festival. Pairing Vancouver’s modernist chamber orchestra with improvising innovators John Hollenbeck, Quinsin Nachoff, and François Houle, the event takes off from Schuller’s idea but adds an even wider array of postmodern possibilities.

      For Hollenbeck, a New York City–based drummer and bandleader with a reputation for elegant large-ensemble compositions, it’s a natural fit. “If Third Stream is like a kind of combination of jazz and classical music, then I guess Fifth Stream is adding world music and whatever other music there is now to the mix,” he says. “I think that for a lot of people in my generation, it’s just natural to combine all those things that we’ve heard since we were growing up.”

      The piece that Turning Point and the jazz festival have commissioned for next week’s concerts, tree bell groove, illustrates his point perfectly. The first section of this three-part suite is dedicated to Bay Area musician Bob Ostertag, a restless innovator whose work spans electronica, improvisation, and political activism, especially around Latin American issues.

      “He just seems like a renaissance man; he just can do it all,” Hollenbeck enthuses. “I love his work, and I often play it for other musicians who haven’t heard it, and they’re always blown away.

      “It’s usually electronic music,” he adds, “and it’s really hard to work in the electronic-music field and do music that sounds fresh.”

      Part two is dedicated to another electronic pioneer, Brian Eno, and it takes its inspiration from the tape-based experiments that led to Eno’s invention of the ambient genre. Rather than work with out-of-phase tape loops or their digital simulacra, however, Hollenbeck is using acoustic instruments to produce similarly otherworldly sounds.

      “It’s five groups of musicians that are playing their own loops, and they kind of overlap each other,” he says. “It’s actually very simple, but it was super hard to notate for humans. But, anyway, it’s a very static, ambient loop piece.”

      The third component of his 25-minute score, he continues, is dedicated to a musician who’s considerably less well known than either Ostertag or Eno, although perhaps by his own design. After recording some classic 1970s sides with Charles Mingus, drummer Doug Hammond relocated to Austria, to teach in comfortable obscurity. His sophisticated and highly rhythmic compositions, however, have been championed by saxophonist Steve Coleman and bassist Dave Holland, and have also informed Hollenbeck’s own compositional identity.

      “He’s a great drummer and a great composer, very individualistic,” Hollenbeck says. “And he wrote me an email, kind of randomly, at the exact moment that I was writing that piece. Sometimes things just come like that, so I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, of course I have to dedicate this piece to him.’ ”

      Sounds like it was meant to be—but what the piece actually sounds like will have to wait until next week’s world premiere.

      The Turning Point Ensemble plays the Goldcorp Centre for the Arts at SFU Woodward’s on Tuesday and Wednesday (June 27 and 28). John Hollenbeck’s Claudia Quintet plays a Vancouver International Jazz Festival show at the Ironworks next Thursday (June 29).