Concert review and set list: Dave Holland captains a captivating quintet at Jazz at the Bistro, Wednesday, January 30
Despite a half-empty room, the chatter filled Jazz at the Bistro with an energy thick enough to feel as patrons moved slowly to their seats.
Those that had stayed from the first set made proclamations and promises of transcendental experiences to each new face that entered the room. It was obvious that an authentic legend and master was in the building. Dave Holland would soon prove his reputation as both a musician and band leader by directing this quintessential quintet.
Holland emerged to the world of jazz in no subtle manner as he was a stable member of Miles Davis’ band for the span of five years and nine albums including the eminent “Bitches Brew.” He’s performed and recorded with many of the other great names in jazz throughout his career and began to lead his own bands when he was just 25. Now, with over 40 years of experience in his role, Holland leads a truly superior quintet that has settled down in St. Louis for a four-night stay.
Even before the music started, the presence of a vibraphone and marimba at the side of the stage suggested an escape from a standard arrangement. Steve Nelson, a band leader and composer himself, manned these giant, chromatic percussion instruments with athleticism. While he featured the vibraphone, he would seamlessly turn 180 degrees for a quick, single bar riff on the marimba before turning back, and often shuffled his feet to reach the highest and lowest bars. His solo during “Cosmosis” featured fluid streams of cascading riffs as he bounced with the rhythms, but it was his dexterity with the mallets that truly stood out as magnificent, seemingly able to hit four octaves simultaneously to create vibrantly dynamic chords.
As the set continued, Robin Eubanks stood out among the quintet, often taking the lead melodies and the widest selection of solos. They were all well merited as he handled his trombone with both finesse and agility, milking the slide for drawn out, slurred segments and even matching the speed of a drum-roll with a frenzy of tongue taps not often found in the bass register. He worked very well with Mark Turner on the saxophones, who stands in for Chris Potter on this tour. The two didn’t behave like a horn section, but rather played off each other and the band much like a piano duet. They would bounce riffs back and forth, and at times would seem to finish each others’ phrases and even improvise in syncopation.
The backline of the quintet was composed of Holland on his short bodied, double bass and Nate Smith on drums. Holland proves to be one of the more modest band leaders touring today. Showing his experience and wisdom, he rarely took a solo or assumed an attention grabbing style, but he was always playing something that fit the song beautifully while continually defying expectations. Smith filled a similar role, often locked on with other members of the band, accentuating the rhythms perfectly with well selected tones from the drumset and a high-energy style.
As a quintet, they meshed with a well established familiarity with each other and the song selections, which were largely cheerful in mood throughout the set. While Dave Holland may be the master, every bit of the show was a group effort. Every musician’s part was necessary to create the sound and the flow of each piece, which further demonstrated Holland’s prowess as a leader. He remains a treasure in the world of jazz and a role model to all who play a note.
Set list (including composer):
Looking Up (Eubanks)
The Sum of All Parts (Eubanks)
Go Fly a Kite (Nelson)
The Eyes Have It (Holland)