There's a promotional sticker on the Dave Holland Quintet's new release ("Not for Nothin'") that says something to the effect of "the best working band in jazz today." A consumer can usually throw such a statement into the waste pile of glib marketing hyperbole. However, after having heard the band at the Regattabar in Harvard Square on Saturday, September 29, I cannot think of too many jazz units more deserving of that title.
The group led off the first set of the last night of their three-night stay at the Cambridge, Massachusetts club with "Claressence," a characteristically snaky tune from the 1995 Holland release "Dream of the Elders." On this song and for the entire set, multi-reedman Chris Potter showed why you should not judge a jazzman solely by studio recordings. Don't get me wrong--I have and enjoy a number of Potter's discs, but to my ears, the difference between his studio and live energy is significant. He is a much more explosive, uninhibited, and occasionally bluesy player live.
Robin Eubanks showed on "A Seeking Spirit" that he is updating the modern trombone vocabulary. If J.J. Johnson brought Bird to the 'bone, Eubanks (along with Conrad Herwig) is likewise infusing the angularity of Wayne Shorter into the instrument. "For All You Are," from the latest release, showcased the tightness of the band in a balladic setting. The absence of a piano or guitar does not prevent the quintet from achieving a rich Mingus-like polyphony. Vibraphonist/Marimbist Steve Nelson, with his multiple mallets and bottomless imagination, supplied an ever-shifting musical matrix over which his bandmates blew. Each of his solos were just as thoughtful as his comping.
Drummer Billy Kilson astounds with his ability to turn the most unusual time signatures into danceable rhythms. Yes, he's a powerhouse, sounds and looks like he has four arms when he's playing, but he can also whisper sweet percussive somethings into your ears when the moment so requires. Holland was rock-solid as usual, and it was apparent that he was enjoying the music as much as the audience was, for he was seldom without a broad smile throughout the show.
The quintet, who have two releases (not counting "Points of View" with Steve Wilson instead of Potter) under their collective belt, are wonderfully mature, cohesive, democratic, and unpredictable. Most of all, they are fully able to capture your attention and take you on an intelligent musical ride, something that is all the more challenging in light of recent events.