Dave Holland Quintet
The Razor’s Edge
Dave Holland bass
Steve Coleman alto saxophone
Kenny Wheeler fluegelhorn, trumpet, cornet
Robin Eubanks trombone
Marvin “Smitty” Smith drums
Recorded February 1987 at Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineer: Martin Wieland
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Still reeling after seeing Dave Holland in a recent intimate performance with Jason Moran, I find myself going back to the fresh directions he explored on ECM with one of his finest outfits: the Quintet. As its third album for the label, The Razor’s Edge is all the more important for being reedman Steve Coleman’s last run with the group before his travels took him elsewhere on the path to musical geomancy. He joins Holland with the usual suspects: trumpeter Kenny Wheeler, trombonist Robin Eubanks, and drummer Marvin “Smitty” Smith (of, among countless other projects, Jay Leno Tonight Show Band fame).
The Quintet is as dynamic as ever in this seminal outing, which finds Eubanks and Coleman in particularly fine form. The trombonist gives us some early traction against Holland’s skittering delights in “Brother Ty,” while that unmistakable alto trades places with soulful insights in the more pensive “Vedana.” Next is, if the reader will indulge me, the title cut, which opens with Wheeler against a delicate rhythm section before releasing a tremulous solo from Eubanks. Coleman flies off a half-pike of big band sound, a raging flare of virtuosic wonder at the mouthpiece. Holland pauses for reflection in “Blues For C.M.,” only to drop the anchor with a gorgeous and unassuming theme. Coleman dominates again, bringing a slower heat this time around as he fills each available nook and cranny with his golden tone. An all-too-brief response from Eubanks brings us down into “Vortex.” Holland proves the early bird, opening to the full band with Coleman at the helm of yet another engaging vessel. And out of sparkling breath comes a muted Wheeler, hurling a pitch to Coleman at bat. Tracks like this are hard to beat, each a hefty dose of wonder and logic rolled into a ball of fun. After a couple of slow swings, Smith kicks us off into “Figit Time,” in which Coleman excels right out the gate. He is, like the album as a whole, a house aflame, threading every hot potato of a needle passed his way. The invigorating drum work in this masterpiece makes it alone worth the price of admission. This is life on jazz.