"Extended Play: Live at Birdland"
"Rarum, Vol. 10: Selected Recordings"
From the end of 1997 through the end of 2003, the Dave Holland Quintet maintained the same personnel and matured into the finest jazz ensemble on the planet. The group's unusual stability -- a minor miracle given the transient nature of jazz lineups -- offered the opportunity at greatness, but the five musicians seized the chance only because they were such superb players and composers and because they worked so hard at the democratic give-and-take of the best jazz.
Their final release was "Extended Play: Live at Birdland," a two-CD, 135-minute concert set that revisits six pieces from the band's 1998-2000 albums plus three originals never before recorded by this lineup. Eight of the nine tunes go longer than 10 minutes and two go longer than 20, so the soloists get plenty of room to stretch out and apply fresh ideas to old themes. But even the longest pieces sustain a constant back-and-forth trade between soloists and accompanists, between composition and improvisation, between harmony and rhythm.
Trombonist Robin Eubanks, vibist Steve Nelson and saxophonist Chris Potter are still playing with bassist Holland, but the restless rumblings of drummer Billy Kilson have now been replaced by the more assertive, funkier drumming of Nate Smith. This new quintet has a chance to be as good as the old one, though it will inevitably be different, and it will take time to reestablish the former rapport. In the meantime, "Extended Play" gives them a very high standard to aim at.
Holland has been recording for ECM since leaving Miles Davis 33 years ago, and such a long, rich partnership is impossible to summarize on a single-disc anthology such as "Rarum, Vol. 10: Selected Recordings." So rather than offer representative tracks, "Rarum" provides such oddities as "Equality" (Cassandra Wilson singing Maya Angelou's words with the Holland Quartet), "How's Never" (performed by Gateway, the trio of Holland, John Abercrombie and Jack DeJohnette), and "Inception" (from a 1983 Holland's album). As frustrating as it is to consider what has been left out, it's hard to argue with such masterpieces as 1972's "Conference of the Birds" (with Sam Rivers and Anthony Braxton) or 2001's "Shifting Sands."
-- Geoffrey Himes
Appearing Friday at the Library of Congress. * To hear a free Sound Bite from Dave Holland's "Extended Play," call Post-Haste at 301-313-2200 and press 8103; to hear "Rarum, Vol. 10," press 8104. (Prince William residents, call 703-690-4110.)