LARRY HOFFMAN: “Works of Larry Hoffman – Contemporary American Music” = String Quartet #1: The Blues; Blues for Harp, Oboe and Violoncello; Pages of Anna; Blues Suite for violoncello solo; Colors for trumpet and percussion – various performers – DBK Works 701 (Distr. by Elusive Discs), 60:07 ***:
Larry Hoffman is an interesting guy. According to booklet notes, he is nearly entirely self-taught as a musician and composer. He began as an English major in Virginia and banjo player who admits a love for bluegrass, Delta “blues”, Bob Dylan and so forth. He followed some jazz as well and learned how to write/make up his own songs.
A turning point in his life came when Hoffman says he heard his first classical music – the Brahms First Symphony (!) After listening to more and more classical music— Brahms in particular and also Beethoven—he was inspired to be admitted to the Peabody Conservatory and eventually worked his way onto their staff and became co-chair of the music theory department of their Prep School. He has served as a performer and lecturer and liner note author specializing in the blues. (As I said, he seems like a very interesting guy with a very atypical background)
His music is equally interesting and mostly fun to listen to. Here’s the thing, though. This particular collection is deeply rooted in the four bar, three-chord blues (with some variance …) It would be incorrect to think of this music as what was people would consider “contemporary American music” There are moments in each of these works that venture into some somewhat unusual territory, harmonically and melodically, but the basic, typical “blues” feel returns quickly.
I found this music a little reminiscent of the big orchestral blues writing of the late, great Bill Russo from Chicago. I think, though, that the reason this similarity exists is because of the natural similarity that any blues progression scored for “orchestral” instruments will give you.
The music, itself, is pleasant enough. Actually, I thought the strongest work in this collection is Pages of Anna for harp, flute, oboe and clarinet; perhaps because it is the one that strays furthest from the straight up blues format with some really exotic and wonderful meandering harmonies and melodies that bounce playfully from instrument to instrument.
The other works are nice and make for pretty easy listening. The String Quartet #1, Blues for harp, oboe and cello and the Blues Suite for solo cello are all pleasant enough laid-back works but do have a sameness in tone among them; that is ‘blues, blues and some more blues.’ Again, that’s what they are supposed to be, after all.
Colors for trumpet and percussion offers some of the same out-of-context feel as I got with the Pages of Anna. There is some angular writing in both instruments and a bit of an improvisatory feel here that is rather attractive.
I enjoyed this album, in general, but I do think that if you like the blues then those pieces which are so clearly “blues” (like the Blues trio or the cello Suite) will appeal to you the most. For those wanting something more, than certainly Pages for Anna and – maybe – Colors will intrigue. Larry Hoffman’s music strikes me as something that meets a niche audience; neither ‘pure blues’ nor ‘modern music’ enthusiasts per se; but it does fill a bill. It’s not quite my deal but I do admire the creativity and the unique character. I would be interested to hear more of Hoffman’s “non-blues” output.