Balancing Act is comprised of vocalist Kate McGarry, saxophonists Jason Rigby and Dick Oatts, trumpeter Marvin Stamm, trombonist Mark Patterson, bassist John Hébert and drummer Brian Blade—all long-time associates of Holober’s who have worked with him on other projects over the years.
Balancing Act’s premiere recording was released in 2015 (Palmetto Records) to widespread critical acclaim. Downbeat Magazine’s Carlo Wolf described it as an “emotionally persuasive album,” and it was voted “Best Release of 2015” by several jazz critics.
Balancing Act consists of six original compositions by Holober, four of which include lyrics, plus two arrangements of well-known songs: Billy Joel’s “Lullabye (Goodnight My Angel),” and Jerry Ragavoy-Bert Berns’ “Piece of My Heart,” best known through Janis Joplin’s famous rendition. But as Tom Stauder notes in the liner notes for the album:
“Balancing Act will not be heard as a singer’s showcase. Instead, Holober effectively employs McGarry (known also for her work with Grammy nominees Fred Hersch and John Hollenbeck) as another frontline instrument: McGarry actually appears on all eight tracks of Balancing Act, and is most often heard singing wordless notes.”
Balancing Act is an exploration of contrasts brought into balance. The album consists of old and new music, originals and covers -- some with lyrics, and some without. More importantly, the project enabled Holober to take a break from an extended period of big band writing to explore a more intimately scaled musical concept. In an interview for the album’s liner notes he explained:
"I had finished a couple of concerts with a lot of writing for different orchestras—overlapping projects in Europe, actually, with the HR and WDR big bands—and felt the urge to start composing for a smaller group and paring things down . . . . I began to write lyrics for some of my new compositions with Kate in mind. The lyrics are a mix of autobiography and fantasy. I thought the idea of a book listing the things that make you sigh was an interesting conceit. ‘Grace’ is a sailboat and a metaphor for a new adventure, inward and outward. Images from my hiking trips inspired the lyrics of ‘Canyon,’ while memories from summers long past return in ‘When There Were Trains.’"