With bassist Dave Holland setting up the foundation for the band, during the live taping of Pathways at New York's Birdland in 2009, the rest of the octet paves the way for baritone saxophonist Gary Smulyan to develop the title track in the similar vein to his earlier big band recording What Goes Around (ECM, 2002).
At first it's possible to imagine listening to the entire big band due to the fullness of the sound. Some of its core musicians continue that style with the familiar Holland approach, accentuated by Smulyan as well as saxophonists Chris Potter and Antonio Hart, trombonist Robin Eubanks, trumpeter Alex Sipiagin, and vibraphonist Steve Nelson.
Admitting that he likes to revisit older tunes with a renewed sense of purpose and creativity, Holland originally performed "How's Never" with the Gateway, featuring drummer Jack DeJohnette and guitarist John Abercrombie, on Homecoming (ECM, 1995). Opening quietly with a bass solo, the piece eventually morphs into a funky, elongated, Maceo Parker-style section dominated by Hart, with the other horn players contributing to the climatic tension. Nate Smith then breaks it down with a consistent drum play.
The mood is slowed down a bit on "Sea of Marmara," featuring Potter on soprano, while "Ebb and Flow" showcases Eubanks, ending with everyone improvising in tandem over the rhythm. It's Smulyan's turn on "Blue Jean," where he throws in a "Shadow of Your Smile" reference on this ballad, before passing the baton to Sipiagin on flugelhorn and, later, Steve Nelson's meticulous strokes coming through in the left channel. The trumpeter continues to make a statement with his original "Wind Dance," which includes Hart's pleasant flute complement, to provide depth and musicality.
The closer, "Shadow Dance," was originally recorded by Holland's 1980s quintet on Jumpin' In (ECM, 1984), as well as on What Goes Around. It's the album's longest track, evolving through a steadily forward-moving, polyrhythmic swing.
Pathways; How's Never?; Sea of Marmara; Ebb and Flow; Blue Jean; Wind Dance; Shadow Dance.
Dave Holland: bass; Chris Potter: tenor and soprano saxophones; Robin Eubanks: trombone; Steve Nelson: vibraphone, marimba; Nate Smith: drums; Antonio Hart: alto saxophone, flute; Alex Sipiagin: trumpet, flugelhorn; Gary Smulyan: baritone saxophone.
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