“Okay Dave, let’s start planning the 2009 tour. Now, obviously a lot of the musicians you’d really like in this new quartet will be busy – but just give me some names to kick things off.”
“Well, Jason Moran on piano would be my first choice.”
“Hmm. It actually looks like he could make the dates…”
“Wow! What a start. Well I’d love to have Chris Potter on saxes again but of course…”
“No, he’s free too.”
“I can’t believe this, but I’m going to go with the flow. Now, it has to be Eric Harland on drums – but he’s everywhere these days.”
“It’s a long shot, but I’ll give him a call.”
“You kidding? Really? Dave – you won’t believe this but…”
Well, however it happened, British bass player Dave Holland has to be the luckiest man alive. Not only did he actually get this stellar line-up for his short 2009 tour, but all four members of the Overtone Quartet clearly left their egos outside the rehearsal studio and – on the evidence of this final show of the tour – in the foyer too.
This band works – and they know it. The interplay between Moran and Potter is breathtaking and Holland’s knowing looks at Harland suggest that the bearded veteran and the young tyro love the way it’s all come good.
The sell-out audience were treated to new compositions from each player, but raw themes were just the starting point for characteristically muscular soloing from Potter and lyrical diversions from Moran, who switched effortlessly between Steinway and Fender Rhodes. Holding it all together were Holland and Harland. Age has never mattered in jazz, and this quartet prove it once more as they demonstrated how Holland’s ability to extract the best from his collaborators on stage continues with each new group. Holland – born in the 1940s in Wolverhampton but with most of his creative life spent in the USA – has created a band that, on the evidence of tonight, will surely be in contention for best release of 2010 if recorded.
The opening number was Chris Potter’s The Outsiders, an original composition for this group like most of the pieces tonight. Potter’s agile, serpentine soloing threw up fragmentary melodies that were coloured in by Moran – a symbiotic partnership that continued at this level throughout the evening. Harland’s elastic changes of rhythm on the now fashionable small kit were mesmerising (especially from the front row) and Holland anchored it all with unassuming fluency. Potter’s style and tone seem to get more and more secure. He can provide pithy little cameos (as on the Steely Dan album Two Against Nature) but he can also wig out big time on complex extended solos (typically heard on his live releases like Follow the Red Line).
Holland’s own first contribution was new too – Walking the Walk was a bassline driven vamp (rather like the title track on his most recent CD Pass It On) but unselfishly Holland gave opportunities for Moran and Potter to shine again. Moran’s Blue Blocks and Harland’s Patterns were both packed with insidious riffs and featured Moran building swaggeringly confident solos apparently from thin air. Remember, this is the jazz pianist who gave us a jazz trio version of the minimalist techno classic Planet Rock…
The pre-encore performance ended with Interception from Holland’s landmark 1973 ECM album Conference of the Birds. Ironically, it sounded the most contemporary and asymmetric performance of the night. Here Holland reworked that spare and very different bad cop quartet sound to give us its more user-friendly good cop partner. This time playing with a warm and tender agility on his custom bass, Holland drew out the underlying melody of the tune – and raised the bar again for Moran and Potter who responded with angular confidence throughout.
Interception ended with a solo from Eric Harland which had Holland shaking his head in quiet disbelief. The Texan drummer created an endlessly inventive series of intricate polyrhythms while holding down a complex right foot pedal pattern. Crowd pleasing of course – but with more than enough substance and originality to explain why Harland is probably the most sought after young drummer on the international jazz circuit today.
A thought on saxophonist Chris Potter. His tone was once equal measures of Coltrane, both Redmans, Rollins and a more coarse-grained Garbarek but it is now securely his own. Here at the QEH, it’s almost as if you see him listening, learning and then playing better than ever as the group bed around him. Nowhere is this more apparent than on the encore, again a new Potter composition called Sky. This final extended number built into a groove that had more than a little of It’s About That Time from Miles Davis’ In a Silent Way, one of the most important and influential jazz releases ever. Oh – and Dave Holland was on that one too. It was a fitting end to a memorable night – and it’s just become my favourite concert of 2009.