Not for Nothin’
Chris Potter saxophones
Robin Eubanks trombone, cowbell
Steve Nelson vibraphone, marimba
Billy Kilson drums
Dave Holland double-bass
Recorded September 21-23, 2000 at Avatar Studios, New York
Engineer: James Farber
Assistant engineer: Aya Takemura
Produced by Dave Holland
Dave Holland has done for the modern jazz quintet what Keith Jarrett has for the standards trio. Balancing utter control with democratic reverence in a carefully assembled team, he pushes an open agenda of bold yet affectionate creation. In this third and final ECM record of his most proper quintet, he, along with saxophonist Chris Potter, trombonist Robin Eubanks, vibraphonist Steve Nelson, and drummer Billy Kilson cut some of the group’s most flawless diamonds yet. As much a unit as one could ever hope for, their connection as such is more than telepathic—it’s downright genetic. This is all the more astonishing when you think that by the year 2000, when this album was laid down, the group had only been together for three years (even less, seeing as Potter replaced Steve Wilson in 1998).
Of the album’s nine tunes, five have felt the scratch of Holland’s pen. Vital and varietal, they boast the quintet’s signature joy in spades. Unique among them is the reflective “For All You Are,” which begins in a loose weave and proceeds to lay the love on thick. For this one Potter has an especially soulful turn on tenor, gray as a storm cloud and as rainbowed as its aftermath. “What Goes Around” is this session’s vehicle of choice for the horns and also titles the follow-up big band album. This hot ticket is a master class in listening to one’s band mates. The symmetry has to be heard to be believed. The title track is an equally hip penultimatum and finds Nelson shining over break-beat support from the rhythm section. Potter’s soprano adds further bite on two tracks, running like a shawm’s great-great-granddaughter through “Shifting Sands” in anticipation of new settlements and cracking eggs of phenomenal cast in “Cosmosis.” Almost flippant but ever genuine, he charts a magnetic course indeed.
Into Holland’s five the set list shuffles one tune by each remaining member. Eubanks’s “Global Citizen” bolts straight out of the gate freshly laminated. Nelson takes an early lead by a head and carries the quintet swiftly around every bend. Holland navigates this game of Snakes and Ladders all the while, marking a turning point midway through into breezier denouements, which, iced by Kilson’s semisweet drumming, provide plenty of skating surface for the composer’s gliding valves. Potter’s offering is “Lost And Found,” which finds Holland in especially muscled form. Eubanks cuts the cloth with precision, leaving Kilson to rev up the energy to interlocking heights. The drummer’s own “Billows Of Rhythm” dovetails into Holland’s love of jagged syncopation and throws the bassist into an early solo. This gives plenty of breathing room for Potter’s upbeat tenoring in what amounts to the set’s most youthful track. This leaves only Nelson and his sardonically titled “Go Fly A Kite,” which is actually quite forgiving in execution. It paints an evocative picture of sky and cloud, giving the horns more than enough room to soar.
Whether it’s bass and vibes, bass and drums, or sax and trombone, the combinations turn on a dime in constant organic relay. All of which puts the humble reviewer to task in picking sides. For just when Kilson seems to steal the show, Holland overwhelms with its virtuosic flair. When Nelson seems buried under Potter’s effervescent rides, he resurfaces with glittering treasure in hand. Eubanks preens his fair share of feathers as well. All the more reason to just sit back and shake one’s head in wonder at the plenitude.