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Michigan Theater- Ann Arbor, Michigan February 15, 2003
Now the man of the hour, due to his Grammy-winning ECM release What Goes Around, bassist Dave Holland has consistently been one of the most dynamic performers to experience in a concert sitting with the string of consummate ensembles that he has chosen to front over the past 25 years or so. His appearance at the acoustically sound and modestly sized Michigan Theater was certainly no exception to the rule in terms of musical satisfaction, although there was a special anticipation in the air that evening, due to the fact that Holland’s big band charts as heard on What Goes Around would be performed by many of New York’s finest for the duration of the second set.
Four rather lengthy selections with the quintet on hand made up the initial set of the evening. “Juggler’s Parade” was easily the highlight of the bunch, with Steve Nelson’s marimba establishing a dark harmonic platform that would usher in an increasingly manic chain of solos. Robin Eubanks utilized various electronics as triggered by his trombone and thereby came up with some interesting effects. At times in the past Eubanks’ work in this area has been a bit over the top, but lately he seems to be more skillfully blending the pyrotechnics with his already combustible approach. A technically gifted drummer, Billy Kilson’s solo on the same tune was simply crazy in its range of emotions and timbres. At times Kilson tends to overplay, but you can’t help but appreciate the monster chops he’s developed.
It’s Chris Potter who seems to have really bloomed over the past few years. Like Kilson, he’s developed a technical prowess that’s without approach, but he really seems to be coming into his own in terms of balancing this technique with heartfelt emotional content. As a whole, the quintet seems extremely tuned into each other so that each piece provides merely a framework for creative responses that seem to evolve out of the moment.
With a change in the staging and set-up, Holland’s New York Big Band made their debut for the second act. A bristling “Razor’s Edge” got things underway, with solid statements from trumpeter Duane Eubanks and trombonist Josh Roseman. “What Goes Around” found Potter bringing things to a collective boil, while Gary Smulyan’s baritone added considerable weight to the bottom end of the ensemble statements. “Upswing” was arguably the pick of the litter, with Smulyan heard this time as a lead soloist in an incendiary spot that was punctuated by several low register splats that provided amusing contrast to the saxophonist’s bebop runs. Trumpeter Alex Sipiagin was also a delight, with a burnished tone and a brash sense of abandon that made each note beg for one’s attention. Equally memorable was Antonio Hart’s turn on soprano sax during the closing number “Happy Jamming.”
It was no surprise that, as announced by Holland during the show, a further recording was being planned for the New York Big Band. This ensemble was fine tuned to perfection and their execution of some challenging charts was nothing short of dazzling. Holland has found his niche with this ensemble and in doing so has varied his pallet; it’s a win-win situation.