In 1997 and ’99, the Dave Holland Quintet made two discs, Points of View and Prime Directive respectively, for ECM Records. Both were nominated for Grammies, and the group won rave reviews from the press: Best Acoustic Jazz Group of the Year (Down Beat Critics’ Poll); Best Combo of the Year (Bell Atlantic Jazz Awards); Best Live Performance, Best Small Ensemble and Album of the Year for Prime Directive (Jazz Journalists Association). And Holland was named #1 Bass Player in Down Beat’s Critics Poll three years in row.
The honors were well deserved. Both discs - featuring Robin Eubanks on trombone, Steve Wilson (Points of View) and Chris Potter (Prime Directive) on saxes, Steve Nelson on vibes and marimba, and Billy Kilson on drums - are full of delights and surprises, wonderfully tangled interplay, fantastic writing, jamming solos that never stray, and an unusual fluidity of traditional roles.
Now comes Not for Nothin’. On first listenings, it seems to be lacking the spark and energy of two older siblings. Perhaps it’s just that the freshness factor isn’t there; perhaps we get spoiled by our favorite artists and come to expect more and more with each effort.
But, on the other hand, taken on its own or after repeated listenings, there’s nothing missing, really. The first track through the last feature the same compelling melodies, rhythms, combinations, textures and feelings, not to mention heroic playing, that made Points of View and Prime Directive so successful."Global Citizen," a tune by Eubanks (as on the first two discs, everyone in the group contributes at least one composition), starts off with some worldly rhythms laid down by drummer Kilson followed by a breezy opening figure by Nelson and Potter. Roles shift on a dime to accommodate Eubanks, who matches the light ring of the soprano sax and vibes with subtle, delicate ’bone playing. Tasty solos by Nelson, Holland and especially Eubanks follow, with Kilson killing on the drums behind.
"For All You Are" is a lovely, twilit ballad by Holland, with Potter taking a fine, emotionally complex solo. Potter, only just in his 30s, recently became the youngest musician ever to win Europe’s highest honor in jazz, the Danish Jazzpar award, placing him in company with Miles Davis, the late Tommy Flanagan, and other jazz elite. He’s a powerful player, equally at home in wild blowing sessions and this highly structured setting. This tune, in particular, highlights his depth and maturity as an artist.
The pace picks up some with "Lost and Found," Potter’s contribution to the set, although tempi remain pretty moderate throughout the entire disc - this isn’t a crazed bebop session, after all, but a controlled and crafted musical event that nevertheless allows its participants to great freedom and creativity. That was perhaps the greatest achievement of the first two Dave Holland Quintet CDs, and it is in ample evidence here, too.
"Shifting Sands" has an exotic flair, with Potter again picking up his soprano, Kilson playing a staggering clave, and Nelson turning to marimba. Eubanks plays darker, distant harmonies behind Potter’s opening statement, and Holland takes a solo like a camel loping with odd grace across the desert.
Kilson’s showcase piece is "Billows of Rhythm," with a minimalist but challenging opening theme leaving plenty of room for rhythm work on drums and vibes. "What Goes Around" swings hard and also gets a little crazy, with everyone blowing off some steam, especially the horn players. Nelson’s "Go Fly A Kite" has a sweet but beguiling innocence, with just the right touch or sorrow. The title track, another tune by Holland, is tough, sassy and bluesy, with no one holding back. And "Cosmosis" closes the disc with upbeat, up-tempo virtuoso work by all.
The England-born Holland, who made his first big splash on the music scene with Miles’ electric bands of the late ’60s, has never seemed far from the forefront of jazz. He’s led dozens of sessions and has appeared on dozens more as a sideman. But he never has seemed to be in a hurry - the groups he led first were trios, followed by quartets, his hard-working quintet and most recently a big band - and he has never seemed one to shout his name from the tops of buildings. But then, he doesn’t have to; I’ll do that for him.