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Thursday June 17, 2010

(From The Chicago Tribune)

Dave Holland Quintet – a brilliant band soars

By: Howard Reich
Published: June 11, 2010

It’s difficult to recall the last time a band received a standing ovation at the Jazz Showcase, a tough room that sets exalted standards for those who take its stage.

But the crowd shot to its feet on Wednesday night, after the Dave Holland Quintet finished the first set of a weeklong engagement. There simply was no arguing that one of the most dynamic small units in jazz had performed near the top of its considerable form.

Certainly listeners would have been even more delighted if Holland had brought his octet, which plays robustly on Holland’s latest CD, “Pathways” (Dare2 Records). But the quintet at the core of that recording has been Holland’s primary expressive outlet for years, and he has honed it into an organization without peer.

Just listen to these five musicians working together, Steve Nelson‘s buoyant phrases on vibraphone powered by Nate Smith‘s incendiary drum work and Holland’s tonally resplendent bass lines. Somehow, these three musicians know how to share a rhythmic pulse without getting locked into predictable patterns. The elasticity of their approach to beats and offbeats cannot be taught or mimicked – it’s uniquely theirs, developed through years of performance and several enlightening recordings.

Then there’s the front line, Robin Eubanks‘ full-and-rounded tone on trombone facing off – or partnering – with Chris Potter‘s slightly acidic, slightly abrasive sound on tenor saxophone. When blasting against each other, the musicians produce palpable sonic tension. When working in tandem, they suggest four horns rather than two.

Remarkably, though, the combined force of these five musicians owes not to volume but to musical incident. Rather than bray for all they’re worth, in other words, the players craft multiple melodic lines, these strands interwoven in often delicate and intricate ways. En masse, this band never plays at maximum decibel levels, focusing instead on the luster of its sound and the flow of its ideas.

The Holland Quintet opened its engagement with a tour de force, an extended version of the title track to “Pathways.” Immediately, each of the players announced his intentions, Potter’s heroic tenor solo enriched by Smith’s sharp-edged percussive attacks, Holland’s insistent bass lines, Eubanks’ declamatory trombone shouts and Nelson’s sonorous chords on vibes. It’s not easy to sustain this much energy without playing too fast or loud, but the Holland Quintet somehow did it.

Vibist Nelson attained some of his best work in “Claressence,” his hard-hitting lines and sharply defined accents reminding listeners that he can do much more than fill out ensemble textures. Elsewhere in the set, Nelson shifted from vibes to marimba, bringing out the yin and the yang of his distinctive tintinnabulation.

For those who wondered, the quintet also can produce music of real austerity, as it proved in the most haunting work of the night, “Veil of Tears.” The meditative tone and stripped-down textures of this music left each musician tremendously exposed, to sometimes wondrous effect. Potter’s tenor saxophone never has sounded more mystical or incantatory, while the whispered utterances of the rest of the band showed what carefully controlled ensemble playing is all about.

The quintet closed the set on an exuberant note, but even here, in “What Goes Around” (the title track of a Holland Big Band recording), the entire ensemble – and Eubanks in particular – emphasized musical substance over mere bravura.

No wonder everyone stood up.

To read the article online click here