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Subtropics Introduces the Unconventional Claudia Quintet

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The Claudia Quintet brings its signature sound to Miami Beach on Saturday as part of this year's Subtropics XXIII of music and sound art.

"The great thing about this band is that it is unconventional music, but very accessible," says John Hollenbeck, who formed the group in 1997 in New York, via email. "We are very excited to play in Florida. The first time with this band!" Claudia is just back in the United States after a European tour that took the group to Austria, Italy, Spain and Switzerland. In 2013, they played the Jazzmandu Festival in Kathmandu, Nepal.

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This is definitely a contemporary quintet, not the formula popularized in the 1950s. It features Chris Speed on clarinet or tenor saxophone, Matt Moran on vibraphone and accordionist Red Wierenga as well as Drew Gress on bass and Hollenbeck's drums. Sometimes there's a keyboard, too. Saturday will be one of those times. "This particular set of music that we have been asked to play was a special project where I wanted to see what would happen if I added piano to the quintet," Hollenbeck says. The result was "Royal Toast," recorded with Gary Versace.

"When I say that the Claudia Quintet combines elements of jazz and modern chamber music, the jazz I'm referring to is mostly the post-bop stuff that's been swirling around in various permutations since the early 1960s, small ensemble music that doesn't necessarily lean on swung rhythms, is built on modal composition, and doesn't fear dipping into the avant-garde," Joe Tangari wrote in a review of the 2010 album for Pitchfork.

Joining the five-some on Saturday will be Fabian Almazan, who has never played with the group before. "Fabian is an amazing player who I love listening to," Hollenbeck says. "He is originally from Miami, so I hope some of his old friends come to hear him."

There's no Claudia in the Claudia Quintet. But there was a Claudia -- once.

An attractive young woman, she approached Hollenbeck and band-mate Reuben Radding at a performance by their now-disbanded trio Refuseniks. She went on and on about her plans to attend their shows regularly and invite her friends, he recounts.

Later, Radding told Hollenbeck he bet Claudia wouldn't be back. He was right. But a meme arose. "Among the trio, we tried to continue this relationship with Claudia with casual remarks, such as 'Hey, I saw Claudia on the street, she says hi,' or 'Claudia left me a message that she is definitely coming by next week,'" says Hollenbeck.

"As time passed, our imaginations continued to recreate Claudia's life. Claudia, according to me, eventually became pregnant and moved to New Jersey with her dot.com entrepreneur boyfriend."

Whatever may have become of Claudia, her namesake quintet thrives.

-- Tracy Fields, artburstmiami.com

The Claudia Quintet and special guest Fabian Almazan perform at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday in the Gleason Room of the Fillmore Miami Beach, 1700 Washington Ave., Miami Beach; general admission is $20, table seating $33.50; (afterward there will be a reception at the Vagabond Hotel, 7301 Biscayne Blvd., Miami); subtropics.org.

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