Well-mannered avant garde jazz

Dave Holland Quintet: Prime Directive

Prime Directive was the first album I wrote about here on the Kitchen Boombox. Through a technical glitch [or more accurately, human error on this human’s part] the post was lost to posterity. But the disk recently made it back onto the boombox, so I thought it was time I revisit it.

As I said in my original post, I’m always leery of jazz groups fronted by bassists or drummers. When they’re in charge, the mix often ends up a little heavy on drums or bass, surprise, surprise, or the rhythm solos run long and gratuitous.

Not so with Prime Directive. Listening to it, every player is so integrated into the sound, you’d never know that Holland plays bass. What emerges from this great line-up—Holland, saxophonist Chris Potter, trombonist Robin Eubanks, vibraphonist Steve Nelson and drummer Billy Kilson—is not just a string of impressive solos, but a series of exquisite jazz conversations. And in the spirit of true collaboration, five of the nine tracks are by Holland; the four other band members each contribute one composition to round out the set.

The music is a nice balance of straightahead bebop and avant garde, that sweet spot I find myself seeking out when I listen to jazz these days. It stretches your ear and keeps you paying attention without challenging you with too much dissonance or flatout blowing. Not that I mind that either, but the melodic challenges and surprises are more subtle here. Now that it’s back in the rotation, it’s found its way into the car and onto my iPod.

At home, whether it’s on the kitchen boombox or we’re listening to it with dinner guests in the dining room, Prime Directive can stay nicely in the background without becoming wallpaper. And at some point in the proceedings, it will make its presence known just enough to make someone stop mid-sentence and ask, “What are we listening to?” I know I’ve used this analogy with other music featured here, but isn’t that what you want from perfect dinner music?

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3 Responses to “Well-mannered avant garde jazz”

  1. Kevin Says:

    You write: “I’m always leery of jazz groups fronted by bassists or drummers. When they’re in charge, the mix often ends up a little heavy on drums or bass….”

    Can you give a few examples of this? Certainly not Mingus. Certainly not William Parker. I just found the comment to be odd.

  2. Terry B Says:

    Kevin—And not Max Roach or Art Blakey either. But Buddy Rich is a good example. And yes, you can argue that he was who people were coming to see—to me, though, it sounds like everyone in his big band was just another side man to his full on drum assaults. More recently, rocker Ginger Baker has been trying his hand at jazz. Doing a fair job of it too. But if you close your eyes and listen to how it’s mixed, you can almost picture the drum kit set front and center on the stage with all the other musicians in the background.

  3. The taste of spring: Seasonal fava beans and pasta — Blue Kitchen Says:

    […] Well-mannered avant garde jazz. The Dave Holland Quintet makes you sit up and take notice without going off on you, at What’s on the kitchen boombox? […]

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