DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

Dave Holland Quintet, Live from the Zelt-Music-Festival, Freiburg (1986)

An important document of the development of the Holland Quintet (now a sextet in its latest incarnation), a snapshot of a bandleader in transition.

Published on October 22, 2009

Dave Holland Quintet, Live from the Zelt-Music-Festival, Freiburg (1986)

Dave Holland Quintet, Live from the Zelt-Music-Festival, Freiburg (1986)

Program: New One, Vortex, World Protection Blues, Homecoming, Wight Waits for Weights
Performers: Dave Holland, bass; Steve Coleman, saxophone; Kenny Wheeler, trumpet; Robin Eubanks, trombone; Marvin Smith, drums
Studio: ArtHaus Music [Distr. by Naxos]
Video 4:3 color
Audio: PCM Stereo, DTS 5.1, DD 5.1
No region code
Length: 59 minutes
Rating: ****

Watching this DVD was a déjà vu experience. Then it hit me: I had witnessed this group back in 1987 in San Francisco. What had drawn me was the rare appearance of the great composer and trumpet/flugel horn stylist, Kenny Wheeler. I figured I was in for a night of ECM lyricism. I was wrong. To my young ears, what followed was a cacophony that pinned me to my seat for the next two hours.  It was one of my first live exposures to free jazz.  That was over 20 years ago and it is interesting to revisit that moment of musical history with a deeper perspective.

The 1986 Dave Holland Quintet was possibly the last group Holland had assembled that was devoid of a chordal instrument. Just a couple of years later he would add guitarist Kevin Eubanks (yes, the “Tonight Show” guy and Robin’s brother!) to the mix and put out “Extensions,” one of the key albums of his mid-career. That release gave him broader exposure, and coupled with a return to a more harmonic approach to composition, eventually catapulted him to his current position of being one of the most acclaimed jazz composers and bandleaders of our time.

The Holland band of 1986 was a different story. On this re-release of a 1988 laserdisc, this very capable  group of musicians is put through its paces in this challenging set of post-bop Ornette Coleman-inspired charts.

The band charges ahead full force on the opener, Holland’s own “New One,” a 16-minute tour de force. After the initial up-tempo opening line the band almost immediately heads for parts unknown in a brilliant free for all between the three horn players.

Soon after the opening shout statement, the front men lay out for a surprisingly lyrical solo by Wheeler. It is amazing to hear Wheeler in this context, playing free and yet retaining his musical identity, the mournful tones of his flugel horn sounding like burnished gold against the solid swing of Smith and Holland.  Holland’s penchant for modal ostinatos is apparent here; a mesmerizing straight eighth interlude emerges that sets up Robin Eubanks nicely for an extended solo. On a dime, the band abruptly heads back into swing time eliciting a staggeringly creative solo from sax man Steve Coleman.

The following Coleman composition “Vortex” also comes out swinging madly, the band suddenly dropping out for a pensive Holland solo, completely exposed, and outside a pulse. Holland has so much to say and embodies the perfect blend of technique and feeling. Just as Dave brings the focus to a quiet point of sound, the band revs up, underscoring a jaw dropping, frenetic Coleman solo. Coleman has to be one of the foremost practitioners of free jazz, his lines possessing a logic and architecture that makes his soloing hard to resist, even at his most oblique. After a tasty mallet drum solo by Smith, “Vortex “surprises the listener with a through-composed passage that sounds like a cross between a Latin marching band and a section of Stravinsky’s “L’Histoire du Soldat”. Wonderful stuff.

The set takes a much needed break from the harmolodic inspiration of Ornette with the blues inflected ”World Protection Band.” An earthy concoction, this tune brings to mind Terence Blanchard’s sophisticated, urban take on the blues. Robin Eubanks gives a soulful solo over the bluesy changes and Kenny Wheeler finds much to explore with some nice ensemble backing parts to bounce off of.

The band picks it up again on “Homecoming” a sprightly strut that once again acts as a launch pad for some great group interaction. Coleman really stretches out on this one, laying down his most convincing solo of the set . Here we find Coleman sculpting angular Dolplyesque lines, bravely pushing the melodic envelope to its extreme.

The set closes with Coleman’s provocatively titled “Wight Waits for Weight,” a funky straight-eighth groove, forecasting Holland’s later polyphonic ensemble style.  The tune features a Middle Eastern melodic riff underpinned by Holland’s rock solid bass line, finding a balance between free playing and modal improvisation.

All in all, this DVD is an important document of the development of the Holland Quintet (now a sextet in its latest incarnation), a snapshot of a bandleader in transition.  The video production is clean and transparent, the camera focusing on the right player at the right time with few exceptions.

The DTS 5.1 sound is excellent, considering the year it was produced. However, the  transparent PCM stereo format sonically edges out the DTS and is the format I would recommend. If you are a fan of open or free jazz this set is not to be missed.

– Brian Whistler




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