Friday, August 24, 2007


Published: August 23, 2007

Among other things, the bassist Dave Holland specializes in a sly manipulation of scale. Over the last few years he has led two successful ensembles: a quintet powerful enough to sound much larger, and a big band agile enough to feel much smaller. His new six-piece group appearing at the Blue Note this week occupies a flexible middle ground.

Dave Holland performing at the Blue Note. This is the band’s second appearance in New York. This band has played in New York just once before, in January, and doesn’t yet have as solid a footing as its precursors. Its first set on Tuesday night felt a bit like a warm-up, starting cautiously and moving toward a more rewarding sense of near-abandon. Along the way there was ample opportunity for each musician to make a strong impression.

For the trombonist Robin Eubanks and the trumpeter Alex (Sasha) Sipiagin that meant improvisation in a heroic mode, steeped in proficiency and clarity. But the more engaging soloist was the alto saxophonist Antonio Hart, whose playing conveyed an additional sense of expedition, and a temperament both restless and soulful. Mr. Hart does solid work in Mr. Holland’s big band, but here he has the space and elasticity he needs.

The rhythm section, consisting of Mr. Holland with the pianist Mulgrew Miller and the drummer Eric Harland, worked commandingly. The central bond, between bass and drums, was especially impressive. Mr. Harland brought an inventive ebullience to his role, using toms and cymbals (and tabla, tambourine and shakers) for the purposes of texture as well as propulsion.

That variety helped animate the tunes, which seemed to have been uniformly built from the ground up. In most cases there was a repetitive bass line at the root, and a melody paired with countermelody, producing a question-and-answer effect. And the song forms stubbornly avoided symmetry. “Equality” was the only piece in a common meter, and even then its 16 beats were parsed unevenly, as five plus five plus six.

These devices are characteristic of Mr. Holland, whose career took flight in the 1970s, initially encompassing fusion with Miles Davis and free jazz with Sam Rivers. A few months ago Mr. Holland reunited with Mr. Rivers, the august multireedist, for a major concert. Here he offered “Rivers Run,” which ended the set on a triumphant note. The first section was impressionistic, with some Middle Eastern modalities that Mr. Hart mined in an incantatory vein. Then came a virtuoso solo by Mr. Holland. What followed was no less dazzling: a feverish turn by Mr. Eubanks, an explosive showcase for Mr. Harland, and a plangent, straining essay by Mr. Sipiagin. Finally the tune drew to a halt, with a full-ensemble flourish. Hitting its mark, the band sounded many times its size.

The Dave Holland Sextet continues through Sunday at the Blue Note, 131 West Third Street, West Village; (212) 475-8592.

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