Dave Holland Quintet - Critical Mass (Dare 2/Sunnyside, 2006)
Critical Mass is the first studio album in four years from what has become the premier working group in modern jazz, the Dave Holland Quintet. After a few early changes, the band's personnel has stabilized with Holland on bass, Chris Potter on tenor and soprano saxophones, Robin Eubanks on trombone, Steve Nelson on vibraphone and marimba, and Nate Smith on drums. The album begins with "The Eyes Have It," featuring the group's always wonderful near-telepathic interplay and a strong and confident tenor saxophone solo from Chris Potter. "Easy Did It" is one of the discs highlights, starting with a mellow beginning and then building in tempo and intensity with some nice trombone soloing over vibes and drums, moving to an extremely hip vibraphone and drums duet before ending with an intense collective improvisation with Pottter on soprano saxophone anchored by some amazing drumming from Nate Smith.
"Vicissitudes" has some more impressive soloing from Chris Potter and a cool sounding vibes solo from Steve Nelson, and a funky drum and bass interlude. "Sacred Garden" takes on a Middle Eastern flavor, an area the group has explored successfully before. "Lucky 7" has a nice stuttering theme breaking out into a strong trombone solo. The most revelatory aspect of this album is the drumming of Nate Smith who is really becoming a star with his complex, yet funky drumming on this record. Combined with the shimmering and percussive quality of Nelson's vibes and marimba, the band becomes a rhythmic powerhouse. For the twenty-first century, this band has been the state of the art in modern mainstream jazz and proof that working groups make the most coherent records. This is yet another feather in their cap.
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