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Dave Holland Quintet - Extended Play

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Artist: Dave Holland Quintet

Album: Extended Play

Label: ECM

Review date: Sep. 9, 2003

Trojan Horse

The Grammies are about pop music, pure and simple. Other genres, older genres, receive the obligatory nod or hat tip, but the ostentatious and highly visible ceremonies are pop-centric in virtually every way. It’s a primary catalyst for the disdain levied by fans of more obscure music styles and an irony in that by its very name, ‘pop’ music is supposed to have universal appeal. Another, less obvious, irony is endemic to the Recording Academy’s largely ambivalent attitude toward jazz; an art form that once was America’s popular music.

The common response to such slights is to argue that the awards have no worth or importance; that art transcends such commercial codification. Sadly this simply isn’t so. Exposure and accolades afforded by the Grammies translate into very real sales and stature in the music industry. Witness Norah Jones, a competent singer/songwriter, touted as jazz songbird, who now stands as one of the most financially successful figureheads of the genre. The bottom line is that musicians still need bread to eat and adhering to the proletariat ideals of artistic independence usually offers little in the way of tangible return.

Fortunately there are artists cracking the glacial ice of the corporate-funded Grammies and still retaining a large measure of their musical integrity. British bassist and bandleader Dave Holland is one such artist. Through his rewarding partnership with ECM, Holland has crafted a string of engaging releases. The last four have received nominations and the big band opus What Goes Around actually took home the prize. This winning streak has translated directly into a lucrative and rigorous tour schedule that would make most of his peers green with envy. Culled from a four-night stint at New York’s Birdland, Extended Play delivers a generous dollop from the harvest of those labors.

Holland’s regular quintet of Chris Potter (saxophones), Robin Eubanks (trombone), Steve Nelson (vibes and marimba), and Billy Kilson (drums) takes the stage and takes the chosen moniker of the set seriously, stretching on nine originals from the band songbook. Many limn the boundaries of Keith Jarrett-sized proportions (another ECM regular, famous for his loquaciousness at the keyboard) and several surpass the twenty-minute mark. Sometimes length can be a liability. Not so in this case as Holland and his cohorts make the most of each and every minute, moving through ensemble and solo passages with copasetic congruity.

Along the way, the fidelity is astoundingly clear, outshining even most studio mixes in the degree to which it captures the instruments and balances them on the sound floor. The opening cut, Holland’s “The Balance”, serves as pithy metaphor, bringing overarching equilibrium of both his music and the current state of his career into beautiful focus. Tracks from the band’s three previous studio albums round out the program including fresh takes on staple compositions like “Prime Directive” and “Bedouin Trail”.

Out of them all, Holland’s hip-huggingly funky bass work on the extended rundown of the chameleonic set closing “Metamorphos” had me deep in the throes of an unshakable groove. Unabashedly aping his turn-on-a-dime stop-start lines in what I’d like to think was a convincing display of air double bass. Kilson’s precision backbeats fit the leader’s corpulent, but limber figures like a supple suede glove. Gorging enthusiastically on the rhythmic feast, Eubanks lets fly with a rollicking solo, his sliding growls and slurring howls are enough to set the audience off in a chorus of ebullient shouts. Potter’s tenor follow-up is the emollient to the earlier hedonism; his phrases spinning off with measured grace, as Holland and Kilson sculpt a pliable calypso beat around him only to later turn combustible.

When it comes down to it, it’s possible to lament the reality of a capitalist music business until we’re blue in the face. Or we can look to the optimistic sort of example this music sets. Holland’s hit upon a subversive way of beating the system on its own terms without sacrificing his jazz clout or chops. And beneath all the politics and armchair postulating that it might foment, this is music that moves, pure and simple.

By Derek Taylor

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