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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 9, No. 5

Review Dave Holland Quintet

February 9, 2004

Extended Play: Live at Birdland
ECM 1864/65

The mastery and conviction of the Dave Holland Quintet as captured in this live 2-CD set can best be described as "awesome," a word a reviewer would usually hesitate to use, but is no exaggeration here.

Drawing much of its groove from pentatonics and from fresh metrical patterns and accents, the music is driven by Holland's burly bass and by the power of the drumming of Billy Kilson.

The tunes, both old and new, reference varied sources: world music, funk, mainstream and free jazz, with passages that resemble the progressive rock of composers like Frank Zappa, or the baroque yet funky structures of the Brazilian iconoclast Hermeto Pascoal. The pieces contain intelligent, unpredictable heads, sections of solo and collective improvisation interspersed with composed interludes that create an effect of planned repose that comes at exactly the right time after high-energy blowing.

The "Extended Play" of the title perhaps reflects the fact that most of the tunes clock in at over 10 minutes each, with five of the nine tunes being over 15 minutes long. The extended forms allow for a number of twists and turns: just when one thinks the musicians have had their say, new statements emerge.

Tunes worth noting include "Jugglers Parade," which features the marimba playing of Steve Nelson. It is a reminder of how refreshing it is to hear that instrument--as well as the vibraphone that one finds in the rest of the recording--instead of the more common choice of guitar, piano or organ. "Make Believe" is a lilting ballad that has a sinuous, earthy groove. "Free for All" is prominently shaped by Holland's bass figures, which are a marvel to hear. Although hypnotically patterned, they are not predictable loops of pop music. This is music with motion, with a deep undertow.

"Bedouin Trail" features the imagination of trombonist Robin Eubanks in a four-minute solo (so quiet you can hear cutlery on china) before the North African "Caravan"-like melody is launched with the rhythm section's help and with saxophonist Chris Potter's reed overlay. The CD's opener "The Balance," with its folk-like pentatonic bass figure and chunky vibraphone stoked by an insistent soprano, and the loopy and incredibly high-octane tour de force closer "Metamorphos," with its alternating funky odd meters to common-time swing, are humourous and masterly. The funkiest number of the date is probably "Prime Directive," from the Quintet's album of the same title.

As Holland points out in his liner notes: "The rare opportunity to have a group with a stable personnel over a relatively long period has given us a chance to explore these compositions beyond their beginnings and use them as a vehicle for our intuition and imagination." The results are impressive. Paul Serralheiro

(c) La Scena Musicale