Dave Holland, Critical Mass

Dylan Hicks

By Dylan Hicks

on 04.22.11 in Reviews
One of the great modern bandleaders and bassists in an unexpectedly optimistic outing.

Long tuned into to the avant-garde but not of it, always open to new and non-Western rhythms yet loyal to jazz first, bassist Dave Holland was leading the modern mainstream field before the term was a twinkle in some taxonomist's four eyes. For over 20 years, he's also been a staunch advocate of the collaborative, multigenerational working-band approach. Even a casual listen to his quintet's first album with new drummer Nate Smith will reveal that this is no pickup band — saxophonist Chris Potter and trombonist Robin Eubanks bounce off each other with the ease of prime-era Lewis and Martin, and the responsive rhythm section sounds made up as much of virtuoso listeners as virtuoso players. As usual, Holland shares compositional duties with the sidemen, and favors muscular ostinatos placed beneath urbane melodies. Critical Mass is sunnier than most previous Holland quintet outings — optimism even prevails on the New Orleans-inspired blues, "Easy Did It," a highlight along with Potter's "Vicissitudes," on which Steven Nelson, the group's ace in the hole, builds a sterling marimba solo around almost childlike three-note sequences.