The Dave Holland Quintet arrived at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center on Sunday night with a new batch of tunes that took full advantage of the group's unusual instrumentation and remarkably malleable form. In fact, the pianoless ensemble seemed in flux, the focus shifting from intimate pairings to vibrantly orchestrated weaves, from dark sonorities and malleted percussion to brash counterpoint and unbridled improvisation.
Holland, the British-born bassist who gained international recognition while playing alongside Miles Davis in the '60s, contributed three tunes. Among them was the multi-hued "Secret Garden," graced by one of his typically sleek and symmetrical solos. The remaining pieces were composed by each of Holland's band mates: saxophonist Chris Potter, trombonist Robin Eubanks, vibraphonist Steve Nelson and drummer Nate Smith. Some of the tunes were so new they had yet to acquire a title, but because the arrangements were sufficiently worked out, tentative moments were rare.
Eubanks and Potter, who doubled on tenor and soprano, made for a formidable front line, darting in and out of harmony and creating contrapuntal designs. Both musicians also freely improvised, with Eubanks favoring soulful testimony and Potter revealing his harmonic daring. Nelson, playing marimba as well as vibes, compensated for the absence of a keyboardist with subtle chordal backdrops and ringing, pianistic lines. Smith, a relative newcomer to the band, emphasized swift, ride-cymbal swing pulses and syncopated funk beats played on snare and high-hat.
All the while, Holland stood center stage, elegantly tending to the shifts in mood, meter and dynamics.
-- Mike Joyce