With a new line up comes a new lease of life and the recent live concert on Radio 3 augured well for the latest formation and new album of Dave Holland’s group. That this more than lives up to its promise is due in no small part to the fact that the line up rates as one of Holland’s finest ever. In particular it was a stroke of genius to have engaged the considerable piano skills of Mulgrew Miller in the band, thus breaking with the tradition of a vibes player that has endured for a decade or so. Trumpeter Alex Sipiagin adds new vigour while Antonio Hart cements his reputation as one of the finest alto saxopohone players around. Factor in the non-negligeable talents of drummer Eric Harland and Robin Eubanks on trombone and you have both a formidable and cohesive formation in place.
What really impresses on this release, however, is the sheer variety of styles that are covered. Extremely catchy and accessible is the groove-laden ‘Modern Times’ that bears the influence of Horace Silver in his Blue Note prime and this will surely garner radio airtime. Likewise the melodic title track, a tribute to drummer Ed Blackwell, ends the album on a high note. In between these two pieces there is the cool jazz of ‘Lazy Snake’, the Latin tinge that permeates ‘Sum of all parts’ on which the band effortlessly shifts from samba to hard bop, and the blues-inflected ballad ‘Processional’ that infuses warmth. By far the longest piece on the album, ‘Rivers Run’ has a decidedly free-jazz feel and is a tribute to saxophonist/flautist Sam Rivers. Holland has reinterpreted several compositions on this album that have been recorded previously by earlier formations and it is the extent to which these tunes have been reinvigorated in the new line up that makes this such an enjoyable experience. Expect this latest offering from Dave Holland to figure prominently among the end of year best jazz albums. Indeed in the fullness of time it may just be hailed as a contemporary classic. For the time being, though, it is a winner of an album from start to finish. Tim Stenhouse