Picks and Pans Review: Extensions
Bassist Dave Holland is a member of an endangered species in jazz: the freethinkers. He gave an early hint of his genius during the late '60s and early '70s when he worked as a sideman with Miles Davis on such seminal recordings as Bitches Brew. Coming into his own as a leader during the past decade, Holland has presided over a series of brilliant small group sessions for ECM—Jumpin' In, Seeds of Time, The Razor's Edge and Triplicate—that have all celebrated the possibilities of mixing open-ended improvisation with tight ensemble playing.
Like Ellington, Holland strives for a group sound that showcases the unique individual talents of his fellow musicians. Holland's own style, both as a bassist and leader, is understated. He takes few solos but constantly prods other members of the band with his elastic rhythmic lines and subtle, melodic cross talk. There is a buoyant quality to his playing that lends an airborne feeling to the entire session.
On alto saxophone Steve Coleman is brooding and quizzical, wrapping tight corkscrews of sound around the free-form melodies while drummer Marvin "Smitty" Smith gleefully struts through a minefield of shifting rhythms. Guitarist Kevin Eubanks, recording with Holland for the first time, helps anchor the proceedings with his chordal harmonies while at the same time contributing to the collective feeling of openness in his solo time.
The music of Extensions ranges from the joyous to the elegiac and has a singing quality that may surprise listeners normally put off by the shock of the new. In an era when jazz has begun to take on an air of musty respectability, Holland's lyrical extrapolations of the tradition are as fresh and invigorating as the spring breezes we're all waiting for. (ECM)