The Dave HollandQuintet set up shop at Joe Segal’s Jazz Showcase for an early holiday gift to all those who enjoy acoustic jazz. With a six-night run on the bill, there were two sets each night and a special third set on Sunday only; the third set explained by Joe himself as “for the kids”--an early matinee “sure to knock the hip out of hip-hop…and maybe pull their pants up!” The Jazz Showcase has been booking jazz since 1947, with the likes of such greats as Max Roach, Dexter Gordon, Ray Brown, and Milt Ferguson, and recent acts featuring Joshua Redman, Diana Krall, David Sanchez, and McCoy Tyner.
Since this was my first experience at the Showcase, I was quick to notice the photographs lining the walls. There are well over a hundred photos filling every empty space available on the walls. Mostly faces I didn’t recognize, but the history of the Jazz Showcase seemed to be talking through these photos. The Quintet took the stage half past nine with the audience seated and patiently waiting the first notes. Holland graciously introduced the band: Chris Potter on soprano and alto saxophones, Robin Eubanks on trombone, Nate Smith replacing Billy Kilson on drums, Steve Nelson on vibraphone, and of course Dave Holland on bass. Holland has represented himself in jazz for over 30 years, but it was a gig in 1968 at Ronnie Scott’s that catapulted Holland’s career. Miles Davis offered Holland an opportunity to play with his band, and he replaced Ron Carter from 1968-1970.
The Quintet started off with what Holland referred to as “untitled, so we’ll just call this '#1,'” an up-tempo piece that brought the audience directly into Holland’s grasp. Two words come to mind--timing and structure. Smith cracked his snare with authority while Nelson doodled along the planks of the vibraphone, only to find each other back where they started. Holland grinned while turning his head to watch Nelson and then to Smith--right and left, left then right…I got the feeling that Smith was satisfying Holland’s vision. Whether it was the entire band, Holland and Smith, Smith and Nelson, Holland and Eubanks, Eubanks and Nelson, back to the whole band and to the crescendo--I felt the timing sharp as nails and the structure holding it all together.
The Showcase is for the jazz purist--no dancing, no smoking, no eating (or at least very little), and most importantly very little talking. The audience is focused on the music and nothing else. I even caught the gentleman next to me sleeping! Great jazz can even get the best of them. But the Quintet was energetic, and Smith was a large reason for this. Whether he was holding a beat, popping his snare, or destroying a solo, he was one of the highlights of the evening.
"Jugglers Paradise," a track off the new live album Extended Play--Live at Birdland, begins with the highs of the vibraphone bouncing along like one of those infant videos with the worm crawling through the mud. It presents a beautiful journey that when completed drops you in a place that feels like the streets of NYC. A combination of Nelson on soprano saxophone and Eubanks on trumpet help create this picture of a man walking along the streets of NYC on a cold, rainy evening…unsure of where he’s heading, with Holland’s bass adding to the ambience. The audience clapped with approval. This is what the Jazz Showcase is all about--musical freedom creating an escape from reality. About three quarters through "Paradise," Holland, Eubanks, and Smith delved into a deep and slightly darker beat--Nelson quickly joined, and the four become one with their sound. "Jugglers Paradise" is a terrific example of the band's timing and structure. They closed out the tune with a blazing solo by Smith and the band bringing it together one more time. This was by far the highlight of the evening!
The Quintet followed up "Jugglers Paradise" with "Go Fly a Kite," written by Steve Nelson. It is a dreamy, ballroom number that features Nelson on the vibraphone. And they closed out the first set with an untitled number by Chris Potter. The DHQ on this fourth night of the run seemed to find its groove--definitely a treat for all those who were in attendance.
Holland presently has no touring dates in 2004 until early March when he plays a four night run at the Regatta Bar in Cambridge, Mass., followed by a four-night stint with his old partner, Herbie Hancock. The Holland/Hancock tour will be making stops for the lucky folks in Milwaukee, Chicago, Toronto, and Boston--a must see show for the jazz enthusiast.
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