Individually and collectively, the members of Dave Holland’s current quintet have received as much critical adulation as any band in jazz. They live at or near the top of the major jazz polls; they win Grammies; their records get ecstatic reviews. Only recently, and faintly, have a few questioning voices begun to be raised. The occasional record or concert review mentions that perhaps the group has become a little too comfortable in its proven format-not contesting that the format depends on virtuosity-and a little predictable in its unpredictability.
In this era, when the working band has become an endangered species, the quintet’s stability of personnel is important in itself. Saxophonist Chris Potter, trombonist Robin Eubanks and vibraharpist Steve Nelson have been with Holland for years. The new guy, drummer Nate Smith, has been in place since 2003. When the band played the 352-seat auditorium of the Neurosciences Institute in San Diego at the end of March, they revealed that the dissenting critics might have a point. Holland’s renowned ensemble probably needs to take some fresh risks. But this kind of nuanced, qualified criticism is more likely to arise in the solitude and analytical concentration of album listening. In person, in the living presence of musicians this gifted and this committed to the group enterprise, it is very hard not to have fun.