No matter what the time, a signature bassist

Veteran bassist Dave Holland is on the road with his quintet to support his new album, “Pathways.’’ Veteran bassist Dave Holland is on the road with his quintet to support his new album, “Pathways.’’ ()
By Steve Greenlee
Globe Staff / April 19, 2010

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CAMBRIDGE — You’ve got to admire bassist Dave Holland. The guy has been at the forefront of jazz for more than 40 years — from providing the brooding thump on Miles Davis’s landmark “In a Silent Way’’ to pressing one of avant-garde jazz’s finest recordings, “Conference of the Birds,’’ to leading the most consistently impressive bands of the past 20 years.

Yet he doesn’t seem to have an ounce of ego about him. Friday night at the Regattabar, he chewed the fat with people in the audience before his set. Onstage he introduced each song and took the solo spotlight only briefly. Even after all these years, he seems truly humbled by all the applause.

He sure deserved it. The quintet — which included vibraphonist Steve Nelson, tenor saxophonist Chris Potter, trombonist Robin Eubanks, and drummer Nate Smith — stretched out on five long songs with deceptively complicated frameworks. It’s almost as though these guys don’t know how to play in 4/4; they’d rather challenge themselves by making odd time signatures seem completely normal.

Holland is on the road to support his new album, “Pathways,’’ which features his octet. The quintet may have been three horns short, but they weren’t needed. The band began with the title tune, Nelson’s chiming, four-mallet attack segueing to a long, long sax solo that had Potter weaving in and out of the melodic line. When Holland soloed, he plucked contrapuntally and counter-rhythmically at the same time, and then kicked into double time.

It only grew more hectic. “How’s Never?,’’ with its 7/8 meter, became a feature for Eubanks, who blew with powerful precision until Smith and Holland squared off in the most simpatico bass-and-drums duet you’re ever going to hear. This quintet went wild even when it played a ballad. Trombone, saxophone, and vibraphone coalesced into a meaty front line on “Souls Harbor’’ until Eubanks jumped out front and played both against and behind the beat.

The sax-bass-drums conversation in the middle of “Full Circle’’ grew so maniacally funky (in 6/4) that the guy at the next table forgot he had a cellphone pressed to his ear; he allowed it to slide down to his chin, where it remained for the rest of the song. Hey, with such great music being created, the person on the other end of the line surely didn’t mind being forgotten.

Steve Greenlee can be reached at

DAVE HOLLAND QUINTET At: Regattabar, Friday night