Dave Holland Leads With a Collectivist Spirit

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Thursday September 10, 2009

From The New York Times
By Nate Chinen

There are few musicians in jazz with a more untroubled sense of leadership than the bassist Dave Holland. Since the first recordings made under his name, in the early 1970s, Mr. Holland has expressed his point of view with gracious clarity, drawing out the best from his partners while keeping a firm hand on the tiller. But he’s after a greater spirit of collectivism with the Overtone Quartet, which made its first public appearance at the Blue Note on Tuesday night before a handful of tour dates this fall.

The group, with the saxophonist Chris Potter, the pianist Jason Moran and the drummer Eric Harland — musicians born in the 1970s — shares most of its DNA with the Monterey Quartet, which was convened in 2007 for that year’s Monterey Jazz Festival. (A sharp live album was released a couple of weeks ago on the festival’s label, licensed to Concord.) The crucial difference is in the piano chair: the Monterey Quartet featured Gonzalo Rubalcaba, a player of drier touch and steelier temperament than Mr. Moran.

The change registers at almost every level. Throughout the first set on Tuesday, Mr. Moran was far more than a different piece of the puzzle: his rumbling cadences and insinuating voicings took their place at the core of the band, inspiring a more elastic interaction from the others, particularly Mr. Harland. The only person who seemed not to yield to any shift was Mr. Holland, holding down a series of syncopated vamps with his usual definitive aplomb.

Every member of the group had at least one composition in play, and their selections were characteristic. Mr. Moran’s was “Blue Blocks,” a tune with a cascading line and flickers of gospel consonance; it brought out Mr. Potter’s soulful, pithy side. “Treachery,” by Mr. Harland, opened the set on a radiant note, with rhythmic jolts and a fanfare-like melody. “The Outsiders,” by Mr. Potter, was a heady contraption, home to enough moving parts and somber harmony to suggest the influence of chamber music.

Because this is the sort of group that can feel overstocked with poise, there was an important place for ballads in the set. “Maiden,” by Mr. Harland, readily fit the bill, sounding at times like a lullaby. “Walking the Walk,” by Mr. Holland, was more of a border case, with a serpentine bass line in 10/8 meter. What brought it into ballad territory was the tone struck by Mr. Moran, on Fender Rhodes electric piano. Apart from some small discursive tangents, his solo revolved around two notes, and he made this feel like a product of deep focus.

After so much new music Mr. Holland placed a chestnut at set’s end: “Interception,” from his landmark 1973 album, “Conference of the Birds.” With its asymmetrical rhythmic pulse it sounded strikingly contemporary — and the musicians, straining brightly against tempo and tonality, managed to strengthen that impression, all together.

The Overtone Quartet performs through Sunday at the Blue Note, 131 West Third Street, West Village; (212) 475-8592, For more tour dates,