Wednesday, February 7, 2018
Dave Holland - 2006 "Critical Mass"
It's been five years since the last studio record by Dave Holland's quintet. But between touring on its own and as the core of Holland's big band, which was responsible for the outstanding Overtime (Dare2, 2005), the unit shows no sign of slowing down. Critical Mass proves that when the chemistry is right, even longstanding bands can continue to improve by introducing new elements, without forgetting what made them great in the first place.
The quintet has been together for close to a decade with only two changes. Saxophonist Chris Potter, who replaced Steve Wilson after Points of View (ECM, 1998), quickly evolved a virtually telepathic link with trombonist Robin Eubanks that has been one of the quintet's signatures. Despite the concern about drummer Billy Kilson leaving the group over two years ago, newcomer Nate Smith has already proven that while his overall approach is lighter, he's equally capable. Critical Mass is his first recording with the group, and there's been no loss of chemistry or distinct identity.
Always a democratic leader, Holland has once again encouraged everyone to contribute compositionally. The leader wrote half of the album's eight tunes, the other players one tune apiece. The group's sound has always been defined by its unique instrumentation: there isn't a sound like it anywhere else. Steve Nelson's vibes and marimba provide a chordal foundation for a trombone/saxophone front line. But even a unique textural conception can grow tiring after a number of years, and it's to these musicians' credit that this quintet remains as vital as ever.
Holland's "The Eyes Have It opens the disc on a familiar note; the bassist and drummer's inescapable groove makes even the most complicated bar shifts feel natural. Potter gets better with each passing year, employing the perfect combination of melodic invention and passionate energy. But it's after Holland's solo, where Potter empathically solos in tandem with an equally intuitive Eubanks, that we're reminded of this group's real magic.
Holland revisits the Middle Eastern vibe of Points of View's "Bedouin Trail, but "Secret Garden feels more authentic, the result of Smith's rhythmic yet textural approach, while Eubanks' "Full Circle proves that it's possible to swing in any time signature.
But the real surprise is saved for last. Nelson's own records have been decidedly mainstream efforts. On "Amator Silenti he's written an episodic composition that goes from a rubato tone poem to a lyrical ballad to angular free play, and that's something new for the quintet. After building to a fever pitch, it ultimately returns to its more melodic beginning.
Proof that it's possible to retain one's identity while breaking new ground, Critical Mass continues a streak of winning records for Holland that shows no sign of letting up.
Bassist extraordinaire Dave Holland believes that like fine wine, music shouldn't be unbottled before its time. Holland and his highly regarded quintet spent a year and a half honing and retooling the music on their new album until it reached the point he calls "critical mass, where "it has become what it's going to be.
That patience, care and commitment to getting things right is evident throughout Critical Mass. This is the work of a working band, a group with five distinct, creative personalities that's been together almost in its entirety—with the exception of new drummer Nate Smith—for nearly a decade. Under Holland's generous leadership, each member of the quintet gets plenty of room to solo and contribute his own ideas to the mix. Each also contributes an original composition, to go along with four from Holland.
The result is some of the most exciting, serious jazz around, a superbly crafted mix of the mainstream and the avant-garde, the cerebral and the swinging. From Holland's hypnotic, Middle Eastern-influenced "Secret Garden to the exploratory funk of Robin Eubanks' "Full Circle, the group exhibits impressive passion, cohesion and sense of adventure. In a band filled with stars, Chris Potter stands out for his tour de force saxophone work, weaving edgy, serpentine lines above Eubanks' steady, more laid-back trombone. Longtime Holland cohort Steve Nelson again shines on vibes and marimba; Nelson wrote the album's most challenging tune, the evocative "Amator Silenti.
This particular lineup of Dave Holland's longstanding quintet had apparently been working for eighteen months prior to recording this disc, and that simple fact oozes out of every note played. There is a level of cohesion and empathy here that arguably can come only from such longstanding associations.
Holland is anything but despotic in his leadership responsibilities, and every member of the group gets a composer's credit here. The result is a diversity of approaches that makes for rewarding listening, and there is an object lesson in this for countless other groups working in this modern mainstream field.
In addition to Holland's bass, the rhythm section is rounded out by Steve Nelson, principally on vibes, though he makes some telling contributions on marimba, and drummer Nate Smith. They give the music an airy, perhaps understated quality, at times taking in earthy funk in a satisfyingly contradictory way, while Robin Eubanks' trombone takes the music in the same direction. The resulting balance is down entirely to the musical personalities of the players involved.
This is perhaps best exemplified on Holland's "Easy Did It," where for once a title is apt for all the right reasons. Chris Potter plays soprano sax here, and his work on that horn has arguably greater character than his tenor playing. While he doesn't approach the individuality of, say, Steve Lacy on the straight horn, he does have an exceptional grasp of tonal nuance.
There's an awful lot of music in this vein out there at the moment, and whilst it's always faultlessly played, it can be a little wearing having to try and identify soloists through note patterns alone. There is no such concern here, which makes this disc a rarity. The soloists have identities of their own and there's nothing in the way of the usual overstatement here. What emerges instead is the impression of a band mining a rich musical seam with skill and aplomb.
1 "The Eyes Have It" (Dave Holland) - 7:00
2 "Easy Did It" (Dave Holland) - 11:16
3 "Vicissitudes" (Chris Potter) - 9:56
4 "The Leak" (Nate Smith) - 5:42
5 "Secret Garden" (Dave Holland) - 8:42
6 "Lucky Seven" (Dave Holland) - 8:35
7 "Full Circle" (Robin Eubanks) - 12:11
8 "Amator Silenti" (Steve Nelson) - 9:17
Chris Potter - tenor & soprano saxophones
Robin Eubanks - trombone
Steve Nelson - vibraphone, marimba & tambourine
Dave Holland - double bass
Nate Smith - drums
Posted by Crimhead420 at 5:32 PM