If he had chosen to do so, Dave Holland might have been excused for maintaining the winning combination — awards and otherwise — that he put together in 1997. But he’s moving on, altering the balances and focus of his quintet toward a tougher sound that went over well with a mostly young, highly enthusiastic, clearly knowledgeable audience at Cal State Northridge Monday night.
While Holland’s latest album, “Not for Nothin’ ” (ECM), released in August, suggested a volatile turn away from the elegant ECM chamber jazz of earlier CDs, the replacement of trombonist Robin Eubanks with alto/soprano saxophonist Antonio Hart has given the quintet a new dual-sax front line that pushes the transition further. Now the brittle, often brilliant post-bop tenor sax of Chris Potter had the ebullient bop and soul of Hart to bounce off and mix it up with, as Steve Nelson returned on vibes and marimba and drummer Billy Kilson injected some splattering funk into several flurries.
Holland has also brought the textures of a big band into his music, enlisting the convenient and able help of the CSUN Jazz “A” Band in the first half of the program. The thickish, conventionally voiced and divided big band charts don’t exactly break new ground, yet at times they seem to replace and expand the missing solo trombone timbres in his quintet. Some urgent passages in “The Razor’s Edge” reminded me just a little bit of some big band shadings on John Coltrane’s “Africa/Brass” album; “Blues for C.M.” (referring to Charles Mingus) was a loosely swaggering chart; and Holland’s huge finger-busting bass sound was the driving engine behind “Shadow Dance.”
The second half was all quintet, revisiting selections from the “Point of View” and “Not for Nothin’ ” albums with a new urgency and power, touching off some battles between Potter and Hart and some muscular punched-out solos from Holland. Occasionally, the new lineup altered the original intent of the music; “Herbaceous,” dedicated to Herbie Hancock in general and his sublime late-’60s sextet in particular, now sounds nothing like the Hancock of that period. But that’s all right, for Holland is just taking the premise of creative improvisation at its word, always changing and evolving.
Holland and his band will perform Nov. 21-24 at Birdland in New York.