Dave Holland Quintet: Critical Mass (2006)
Holland is anything but despotic in his leadership responsibilities, and every member of the group gets a composer's credit here. The result is a diversity of approaches that makes for rewarding listening, and there is an object lesson in this for countless other groups working in this modern mainstream field.
In addition to Holland's bass, the rhythm section is rounded out by Steve Nelson, principally on vibes, though he makes some telling contributions on marimba, and drummer Nate Smith. They give the music an airy, perhaps understated quality, at times taking in earthy funk in a satisfyingly contradictory way, while Robin Eubanks' trombone takes the music in the same direction. The resulting balance is down entirely to the musical personalities of the players involved.
This is perhaps best exemplified on Holland's "Easy Did It," where for once a title is apt for all the right reasons. Chris Potter plays soprano sax here, and his work on that horn has arguably greater character than his tenor playing. While he doesn't approach the individuality of, say, Steve Lacy on the straight horn, he does have an exceptional grasp of tonal nuance.
There's an awful lot of music in this vein out there at the moment, and whilst it's always faultlessly played, it can be a little wearing having to try and identify soloists through note patterns alone. There is no such concern here, which makes this disc a rarity. The soloists have identities of their own and there's nothing in the way of the usual overstatement here. What emerges instead is the impression of a band mining a rich musical seam with skill and aplomb.
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Track Listing: The Eyes Have It; Easy Did It; Vicissitudes; The Leak; Secret Garden; Lucky Seven; Full Circle; Amator Silenti.
Personnel: Chris Potter: tenor and soprano saxophone; Robin Eubanks: trombone; Steve Nelson: vibraphone, marimba, tambourine; Dave Holland: bass; Nate Smith: drums.
Record Label: Sunnyside Records