Saturday, March 27, 2004

Dave Holland Quintet - 26/03/2004, Antwerp

Chris Potter - ts, ss
Robin Eubanks - tb
Steve Nelson - vib, marimba
Dave Holland - b
Nate Smith - d

For the first time in ages, I went to a concert without a notebook. I'm rather impressed at how much I managed to remember (I have a terrible memory for most things). After every song I jogged my memory: "First they played this, then that..."

I love this band, their CDs and their Octet and Big Band extensions. Oddly enough, the one time I saw the Quintet itself (the other two previous times were the larger versions), Nate Smith was subbing for Billy Kilson. Now Smith occupies the drum chair permanently. When he was subbing, he stuck to Kilson's template, but now he's clearly playing as himself: less bombastic (ie. few resonant tom fills), polished and demonstratively virtuosic, Smith develops a leaner, more rugged kind of funk, but just as energetic and driving. This personnel change gives the Quintet a more fusional group sound: kind of a bubbling magma, best demonstrated when Chris Potter and Robin Eubanks took turns soloing in a trio format (with bass and drums) on Eubanks's "Full Circle" or on other tunes when their duetting abandoned their trademark pinpoint listening in favour of a denser, more visceral texture. Indeed, at their best, the horn solos were less about specific notes than about generating a single, massive, enveloping sound. The only aspect I found Smith a bit lacking compared to Kilson were in the duets with Dave Holland. Kilson and Holland just had such a special rapport, their duets were always incredible. That was the result of years of collaboration, so maybe Smith will build up something similar in time.

Speaking of Holland, I'm always riveted by his playing. Whether he's holding down that all-important vamp (that allows the other four members to play freely) or playing alone, as in the intro to "Free For All," Holland always maintains incredible grace and melodicism.

The Quintet seems to have closed the book on the repertoire dating back to the Prime Directive, Not For Nothing and What Goes Around albums, playing mostly unrecorded tunes. I found the new songs less memorably tuneful than the old ones. This was underlined, I felt, when they played Steve Nelson's "Go Fly a Kite" as an encore, a piece full of innocence and child-like wonder. They've also cut out the mid-solo backgrounds. I wonder it they are play a part in the larger configurations.

The concert really got kicking with the second tune, "Easy Did It," which made me sort of think of a 7/4 version of a A Tribe Called Quest beat. Early on in his solo, Nelson stumbled upon a Monk quote (from "Blue Monk," I think) and went on to flip its phrasing around as much as possible. Nelson's compositions favour a quieter, very melodic chamber-like approach with less room for improvisation, as demonstrated by his "Salentino Amateur" (or something like that). Oddly, the middle of the piece consisted of a few minutes of free improvisation, not something this band does much of and certainly not something I expected on this piece. Nelson marked the change physically, whirling around from vibraphone to marimba (as they didn't play any "marimba tunes" like "Juggler's Parade," it seemed rather a waste to lug around such a massive instrument, only to play it so little). The first set ended with Potter's brilliant "Vicissitudes," which he later said to have a Brazilian element, but reminded me of Chick Corea's "La Fiesta," with its recurring Spanish tinge.

The second set opened with "Last Minute Man." I may have witnessed the genesis of the song's name when, at the Big Band concert I saw a year or two ago, the wrong vibraphone had been brought, and the last minute man in question saved the day by getting the proper instrument to the venue at, well, the last minute. That's what I remember Holland saying, but who knows if it's true. The particularity in this tune is that the first beat of every 7/4 bar is unemphasized, giving it a cool lopsided or indeterminate feel. Then came Eubanks's "Full Circle," which Potter's solo brought to a boil and which, improbably, Eubanks proceeded to top! Those were probably the concert's high points in terms of intensity. Then came "Free For All" and the aforementioned bass intro, and "Go Fly a Kite" as the inevitable, and deserved, encore.