Dave Holland Quintet
Extended Play: Live At Birdland
Chris Potter soprano, alto and tenor saxophones
Robin Eubanks trombone, cowbell
Steve Nelson vibraphone and marimba
Billy Kilson drums
Dave Holland double-bass
Recorded live at Birdland, November 21-24, 2001
Engineer: James Farber
Produced by Dave Holland
That Dave Holland ends his brief frontispiece in the CD booklet for Extended Play: Live At Birdland by acknowledging the commitment and uncompromising creativity of his band mates is proof positive of the bassist’s own. Everything he had recorded for ECM up to this point, starting with the label’s ninth release (A.R.C.) in 1971, comes to a head in this double-disc live recording from New York’s famous Birdland jazz club some three decades later. The quintet featured here is to date Holland’s best-oiled machine: saxophonist Chris Potter, trombonist Robin Eubanks, mallet man Steve Nelson, and drummer Billy Kilson work together with such professionalism, respect, and synchronicity that one needn’t even have been there to acknowledge it. And because the album’s nine tunes (averaging 15 minutes each) are all of such a massive piece, it fares better to speak of the men behind the music.
Kilson shines on “Prime Directive” (as he does on the album it titles), backing the spine-tingling negotiations of the horns and bringing the full gamut of his sound to bear on “The Balance,” which opens barely, tenderly: the last gasp of sunset before the dusk draws its curtain. At 21 minutes, this is no shy cat but a lion ready to pounce yet who would rather sing for the sheer pleasure of it. Holland’s intimate solo against Kilson’s beetle-wing cymbals makes for some beautiful downtime. Bassist and drummer also pair off nicely in “Claressence,” where they lay down a confident groove beneath the harmonized theme, leaving Potter to unleash a kennel’s worth of playful pets.
As for Potter and Eubanks, they are so well integrated that it’s all one can do to analytically separate them, though Potter edges out in the slumbering “Make Believe,” playing North Star to Holland’s seafaring. “Free for All” realizes deepest integration of this duo, and of the quintet at large. Soprano and trombone make a perfect pair, Holland the solid triangle at the fulcrum of their seesaw. Eubanks gets his soliloquy at the start of “Bedouin Trail,” for which he dons the storyteller’s hat and kicks off an especially flowing take on this quintessential journey, and dialogues superbly with both Potter and Holland in “Jugglers Parade.” He also stands out for the occasional moments of intensity during which he sings into his trombone in pure, incendiary brilliance.
Holland’s bass is an unbreakable tendon, showing off its flexibility in the Potter-penned “High Wire,” another fine display of congruence. His flip-flopping salts the rim of the alto margarita that ensues. Hip and then some, Kilson provides a splash of Cointreau, Nelson a Grand Marnier infusion. Going down just as smoothly is the gargantuan ender: “Metamorphos.” This one comes from the mind of Eubanks and finds Holland lyrical and ebullient, establishing at the outset the perfect conditions for transformation. His cell divides, and those further into a full-blown 20-minute experience, of which the night’s most engaging few are shared in triplicate between Eubanks, Kilson, and Holland.
And let us not forget Nelson, whose deft cross-hatching throughout—but especially in “Bedouin Trail,” “Free For All,” and “Claressence”—is so omnipresent, so slick and attentive, that without it the other four planets would fling wildly from their sun.
Extended Play is a rebirth of cool and about as perfect as live albums get. It is also a veritable résumé at a high point in the band’s career. The five intersecting planes on the cover say it all. If you only ever buy one Holland album (and I hope you don’t stop there), your choice is clear.