Every CD the Dave Holland Quintet has recorded since its inception in 1997 has been impeccable. The albums are elegantly designed and convey a clear picture of Holland's artistry, and the Quintet's ensemble sections and solos unfailingly exude a palpable sense of shared commitment and fully realized creativity. It is as about as close to perfect as a jazz group can be.
The prospect, then, of a two-CD collection recorded at Birdland is a bit delicious. Great club recordings are as dependent upon the inspiring nappy edge or possible flub for their magic as they are on a well-executed game plan. On Extended Play, Holland and his cohorts let the listener hear them sweat as they take real risks, but they never slacken, let alone stumble.
The consistently sterling level Holland's quintet sustains on Extended Play is not the result of the clever cherry picking of a four-night stand. It is simply a benefit of longevity that eludes most jazz units. On many of the tunes reprised from the Quintet's earlier albums, Holland and his cohorts have devised open-ended, usually vamp-propelled outlets for heated improvisations. While the soloist has seemingly unfettered latitude during these stretches, there is inevitably a tidy, discreetly cued resolution. It is then beholden upon the soloist to create enough voltage going into that cue to give the transition or reiteration of the theme a real jolt. Just one of many assets trombonist Robin Eubanks and saxophonist Chris Potter bring to the band is their ability to consistently provide that burst of excitement, and it is a key ingredient of the group's performances.
Extended Play also reinforces the notion that several key components of Holland's music and preferences in personnel reflect an aesthetic that matured in the 1970s-even the occasionally cited influence of Mingus, which is usually identified through Holland's probing, bluesy bass lines. Though it is tempting to parallel, albeit roughly, Holland's penchant for contrasting tightly coiled lines and an almost breezy lyricism in a piece to contemporaries like Woody Shaw, it bears noting that this was also a central strategy Mingus used in his quintet with George Adams and Don Pullen. Personnel-wise, it is Billy Kilson's powerhouse drumming that most strongly pegs the sensibility behind the quintet to the '70s-though, except for Holland himself, it is Steve Nelson, whose labyrinthine vibes and marimba solos are always a wonder, who is the most direct link to the era.
Extended Play does everything a club recording should do in impeccable fashion, as it confirms what you know and dig about Dave Holland's Quintet as well as it provides some new insights into the group's underlying forces.