Dave Holland Quintet
October 2, 2004
In their first appearance in Montreal since the summer of '02, bassist Dave Holland's longstanding quintet made a couple of changes. First, drummer Billy Kilson, who left the group approximately a year ago, has been replaced by Nate Smith, a young player who had subbed for Kilson at various times in the previous year or two and, consequently, was already somewhat familiar to the group. Now, nearly a year down the road, he is fully integrated, with a personal style that is lighter than Kilson's but no less urgent. Second, the quintet, with the only exception being the title track from their '99 album, Prime Directive , eschewed any previously-recorded material, instead concentrating on new material to be recorded in early '05 for their next album. The result was a performance that demonstrated all the things that fans have come to know and love about the group, with a few surprises thrown in for good measure.
The incredible sense of chemistry, interplay and immediacy that has characterized the group since its inception was there in full force. As always, while the individual players, including saxophonist Chris Potter, trombonist Robin Eubanks and Steve Nelson on vibraphone and marimba, got plenty of solo space, some of the most exciting moments were when they seemed to be all in the pool at once. Most notable was the empathy between Potter and Eubanks; their duet during "Prime Directive," exciting as it was on their last release, Extended Play - Live at Birdland , was taken up a notch or two, demonstrating that there is always room for relationships to evolve as long as the participants are willing to listen - and everyone in this group clearly has a huge set of ears.
Opening with Holland's "The Eyes Have It," the group hit the ground running, with Smith immediately impressive for his clean lines and ability to pick up on what was going on around him. Kilson was always an intuitive player, picking up on the soloist's motifs with ease, and Smith is equally telepathic. Nelson may choose a more traditional route when recording his own albums, including this year's Fuller Nelson , but in the context of the Dave Holland Quintet he is as forward-thinking as they come. Other than Joe Locke, and perhaps the younger and still somewhat brash Stefon Harris, there isn't a vibraphonist on the scene today who has such an advanced harmonic vision as Nelson. His chordal placement behind Potter and Eubanks' in tandem solo was nothing short of remarkable - subtle shadings that supported the players while, at the same time, suggesting new places to go.
Eubanks' "Easy Did It" featured Potter on soprano, soloing over a lightly funky backdrop with just a taste of skewed gospel sense. Nelson's solo was the cerebral counterpoint to Potter's more visceral tendency, carefully chosen and filled with implication as opposed to Potter, who tends to be a more expressionist player.
Potter's "Vicissitudes" had a bright quasi-Latin feel that built in insistence as the piece developed. As always, the Quintet handled difficult time changes effortlessly; complex meters felt completely natural, and Holland was clearly having a good time working of Smith, who managed to maintain an innate groove while, at the same time, playing with the time in a loose and supple fashion. Potter's tenor solo was the highlight of the evening, asserting that he is, if not the greatest, then clearly one of the greatest tenor players of his generation. His ability to sustain interest and build excitement during the course of an extended solo was only mirrored by Eubanks' improvisation, a flow of ideas from a seemingly endless wealth of conceits. What is, at times, almost overwhelming about the quintet is the stream of ideas coming at you at once from all parts of the stage. Still, what makes the Dave Holland Quintet so remarkable is its ability to encourage collective extemporization in a context that is still completely accessible; approachable yet thought-provoking.
Another new tune, with an unspecified title, found Nelson developing his solo by alternating between vibraphone and marimba to great effect. Mirroring that development, Smith would shift between more restrained support, then opening up on the kit to create a terrific sense of tension and release. Holland's solo demonstrated everything there is to know about him; phenomenal dexterity, a strong sense of development, a firm yet pliant tone. Little needs to be said about Holland other than that he is part of a very small group of modern bassists who are capable of looking back on the tradition while, at the same time, moving it forward at full throttle.
Nelson's "Amateur Sovereignty" signalled something of a change for the band. The most structured piece of the set, with shifts in mood and dynamics, it also contained some of the freest playing the band has ever done. A tight composition with many twists and turns, and one of the most complex pieces the band has ever attempted, this represents a significant shift from the more overtly groove-centric work that has always characterized the band, also proving that Nelson's strength as a contemporary composer is only beginning to be heard.
The set closed with the aforementioned "Prime Directive." Fine solos from everyone aside, it was Smith who demanded the most attention, as he played with the odd-meter, bringing a playful sense of unpredictability.
One standing ovation and a brief encore later, and the night was over, proving yet again that the Dave Holland Quintet is one of the most exciting ensembles in jazz today. With a combination of invention and accessibility, they show that jazz doesn't have to be an elitist affair; instead, it can be gripping and evocative while maintaining a broad appeal. While the next album Holland will be releasing is to be a big band record to follow-up '02's What Goes Around , based on the strength of the new material and the continuing impressive and evolving dynamic of the quintet one can only hope that it won't be too long before their new record is also released.
Visit Dave Holland on the web at www.daveholland.com .