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Mike Holober Achieves a Rare 'Balancing Act' on New Palmetto Release [REVIEW]

By Mike Greenblatt m.greenblatt@classicalite.com on Nov 19, 2015 11:39 AM EST

Pianist and composer Mike Holober does indeed achieve a Balancing Act on his new Palmetto Records release. The balance in question comes from creative use of Kate McGarry's vocals, sprinkled throughout all eight tracks of these elegant proceedings as if it were but another instrument...which, in a way, it is.

Throw away the concept of song structure. The CD plays as an extended suite with the vocals playing peek-a-boo before giving way to glorious arrangements of sophisticated jazz charts. Kate will sing a verse -- or is it a chorus? -- here and there when she's not vocalizing wordless notes. With a production ringed with percussive pop and tinged with crystal clarity (great treble!), the octet moves and grooves with a panache usually reserved for commissioned works of art. Piano, voice, trumpet, flugelhorn, alto, tenor and soprano saxes, flute, clarinet, bass clarinet, trombone, acoustic bass and drums (by ringer Brian Blade, no less) combine in Holober's Balancing Act to create a gorgeous swell of uplift.

The vocal experiment, if that's what it can be called, even works on such a well-known pop song as "Piece Of My Heart," that everyone from Irma Franklin and Janis Joplin to Faith Hill and Melissa Etheridge have made their own. That also goes for Billy Joel's "Lullabye: Goodnight My Angel." You'll recognize them but not at first. The subtle charm practically oozes out.

This is the first Holober CD since his 2009 Quake. Known mostly for his big-band orchestral swells, this rare octet recording proves his mettle in a different arena. His originals -- especially the nine-minute opus "Grace At Sea," "Canyon" and the closing 'When There Were Trains" -- reflect his passion as an outdoorsman and back country guide. He uses autobiography and pure fantasy in his lyrics, relying on metaphor and borrowing from literature and cinema's magic realism.

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TagsMike Holober, REVIEW, Palmetto Records, Kate McGarry