Unforced virtuosity

Bassist Dave Holland, who first made his mark in one of Miles Davis’ late-’60s fusion groups while still in his early 20s, has established himself as a player and combo leader operating somewhere between jazz’s neoclassical mainstream and its lingering avant-garde. His current quintet (featuring Robin Eubanks, trombone, Chris Potter, alto and tenor sax, Steve Nelson, vibes and marimba, and Billy Kilson, drums) mixes improvisational subtlety with compositional care and leaves the tradition as an unemphasized given (no obligatory Ellington or Monk covers, e.g.). With five songs from Holland and one each from the other players, the material reflects an even-tempered creativity — unforced virtuosity, subdued colors — which extends to the solos, especially Eubanks’ buttery, trippingly off-the-tongue displays.

But the overall mood on this third release by the quintet is not so much one of restraint as it is the measured excitement of thoughtful players who only rub against the far side of acceptable sounds when it’s appropriate. As on Kiley’s “Billows of Rhythm,” when both Potter and Eubanks escalate their probings into gnarly climaxes. On Holland’s “What Goes Round” — the disc’s 13-minute centerpiece — both of the horns are required to sustain an extemporized heat and manage to do so without lapsing into aggressive noodling. You’ll never catch these guys coasting. Holland himself has a couple beautifully articulated solos, including one stunner during Eubanks’ “Global Citizen” where the band drops out and he does a lovely, frenzied little dance.

One is always aware that this is a real, working band, well-meshed and dedicated, and moments like Holland’s ecstatic outburst (and there are many here) are what give the set its special quality of accumulated grace.

Richard C. Walls writes about the arts for Metro Times. E-mail him at [email protected].

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