As much as a milestone moment that gig was forty-five years ago, you fast got the impression from all the welcoming whistles and cheer that, like Holland himself, tonight’s crowd was more concerned with the now, this gig, this band and the intoxicating self-titled album they dropped late last year.
So it was lights down and down to business, as this all-star outfit of guitarist Kevin Eubanks, pianist and keyboard player Craig Taborn and drummer Eric Harland, threw themselves into the bassist’s “A New Day”. Growling from the get-go, the tune’s repetitive, low-end bass vamp, urgent piano and stuttered, snare-driven beat at once filled the room, bedecked with a dirty, distorted blues solo from Eubanks.
If the band’s immediate sound, and this fearless opener, screamed swing, ’70s Miles and Mahavishnu, Eubank’s lengthy “Evolution” added all the thrills of straight-ahead rock. Crawling out of some high-register bowed bass, feint cymbal rolls and Taborn slowly scraping the strings inside his piano, Eubanks’ sustained, muscular guitar melody mutated into something more venomous, and an odd-time riff reminiscent of Miles’ “It’s About That Time”, had it been covered by Led Zeppelin.
When the guitarist eventually stepped off the gas and reprised the original theme, some swirling organ and a funky, hip-hop-style hook from Holland helped brush it through a long, but hypnotic fade out. Out of that fade, against the natural buzz of the amps, Holland’s introductory solo to “The Empty Chair” (dedicated to his late wife, Clare) cajoled some pensive playing from all, particularly Holland himself, essaying spacious and lyrical lines across a slow, blasé beat from Harland, so crisp you could make out every minute subdivision.
Elsewhere, Taborn’s “True Meaning of Determination” spotlit Harland’s tireless ability to hover, and improvise over odd-time signatures. During a volcanic solo in which he played between a regular kit and much smaller, slack-skinned set-up to his left, it was debatable as to whether he was taking his cues from the piece’s montuno-style head, Holland’s ferocious finger work, or the clinking of glasses and cutlery around the club.
The drummer’s own ballad “Breathe” further-transfixed the room. Eased in with Taborn alone, deploying some vigorous, classical-like chords and rolls, the pretty piece swelled to embrace brushes, soft bass and a cascading single-note guitar drone, all of which factored in its emotive climax.
By the time the band reappeared to rip through encore “The Watcher”, it was obvious Holland wasn’t going to conclude with some last-minute musings on Miles. Besides, the band had already paid tribute to the great trumpeter with a stimulating set that constantly grooved, moved, and flipped stylistically, just the way Davis did.
Originally published on the Jazzwise website, July, 2014