Dave Holland Quartet
Dave Holland bass
Steve Coleman alto saxophone
Kevin Eubanks guitar
Marvin “Smitty” Smith drums
Recorded September 1989, Power Station, New York
Engineer: James Farber
Produced by Manfred Eicher
If you’re like me, then you’re most familiar with this album’s rhythm section from The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. From 1995 to 2006, guitarist Kevin Eubanks and drummer Marvin “Smitty” Smith were the anchors for said program’s house band. I always knew that Eubanks was a talented musician but felt that his insights were often lost in the muddled acoustics of the NBC studio in which they were situated. These conditions also boded ill, in most cases, for the show’s musical acts. In addition, for the most part Eubanks had his distortion turned high in order to achieve a certain brand of punctuation in his bantering with Leno, but I sometimes noticed that when returning from a commercial break he would be finishing a smooth jazz number, the brilliance of which I could only guess at. It wasn’t until I heard Extensions that I realized just how deep that brilliance goes.
Eubanks astounds at every turn of Extensions. Having penned the opening and closing tracks, he has the first and last word on things and brings to the in-between a certain majesty to the scope of his improvisatory paths. His “Nemesis” starts things off just right, giving way from barely plucked stirrings to the controlled vigor of altoist Steve Coleman’s left side drive. Not to be outdone, of course, are Smith and the album’s leader (though you wouldn’t know it from Holland’s many gracious nods to these younger trailblazers), whose interactions give Coleman just the lift he needs to soar with a blistering yet somehow nonabrasive sound. A toffee crisp solo from Eubanks paints here in leaps and somersaults, each a tight circle of deftly contained energy.
Holland himself gives us two tracks, of which “Processional” is the most sumptuous. This arid groove finds the bassist stepping lightly, making way for a starlit solo from Eubanks. Holland opens “The Oracle” with a line so delicate, it almost sounds like a classical guitar. The subtlety of Smith’s stylings at the kit and Eubanks’s bird-like calls work themselves through the curling plumes of windswept dunes, leaving a sonorous trail of footsteps that is redrawn as quickly as it is buried. This nearly 15-minute cut is the highlight of the album and should make a Eubanks believer out of anyone. Holland’s almost spiritually minded solo, detailed like a prayer, still conveys an unparalleled wanderlust before Coleman draws a trail of fire into the refrain. His two tunes, “Black Hole” and “101° Fahrenheit (Slow Meltdown),” are respectively funky and sultry, the latter unveiling fan-chopped smoke and alleys littered with wasted opportunities, singing of a time when one could forget them all in an amber bottle.
The closer, “Color Of Mind,” sports one of Holland’s catchiest bass lines and another astonishing dialogue from Eubanks. It also gives us some downtime with Holland along with Smith, who turns up the heat a notch or two into a sparkling close.
This album is a coming of age in an age of becoming. If ECM’s Touchstones series, of which this is a part, had its own Touchstones, this would be one of them.