Dave Holland's quintets and big bands have set a new high standard for modern mainstream and progressive jazz since the late '90s. While not a new assertion, and considering his entire body of work, Holland has time and time again proven his compositional theorems as valid, accessible, ever interesting, and especially memorable. Using a sextet, upright bassist Holland sets the bar even higher, adding the always tasteful pianist Mulgrew Miller and a four-horn front line that is relentless. This group continues to define jazz perfectly in the 21st century. Evidence is offered in the jaunty opening "The Sum of All Parts," a 5/4 African percussion-based piece led out by the always interesting Robin Eubanks, with folded-in alto and trumpet, witty counterpoint, and the always engaging, joyous sound that Holland has perfected in the past decade. Adding a light samba feel during the upbeat "Fast Track" with the horns in perfect unison, the ensemble shifts up to hard bop, the hip piano of Miller adding to the enjoyability quotient. A 10/8 choppy and bouncy "Modern Times" also uses Brazilian inferences and a clarion call, and has Antonio Hart switching to soprano. On the soulful side, the title track recalls visions of Horace Silver courtesy of Miller -- a groovy, fun boogaloo that has "radio hit" written all over it, while "Lazy Snake" takes the soul element deep underground -- there's one on every Holland CD -- and contrasts it with a suggestion of stark surrealism. Then there's the near 14-minute, free-based, diffuse "Rivers Run" (dedicated to Sam Rivers) accented by the bowed bass of Holland, building in intensity as the horns step up the sonic density in darker hues. Of course, this band can easily drive music hard, as on the post-bopper "Equality," which turns sullen and funky, then swings angularly. "Double Vision" sports a Native American spirit feel in a feature for Hart's stylistic alto, and the serene, lucid ballad "Processional" in 5/4 time is further support to the notion that intellectual music need not be devoid of warm blue notes infused into its fabric. The addition of the wonderful trumpeter Alex Sipiagin, the ever-maturing trombone playing of Eubanks (who wrote "The Sum of All Parts" and "Rivers Run"), and the nearly perfect percussive propulsion of the extraordinary drummer Eric Harland make this band practically unstoppable, and unprecedented in seizing mantles for its sheer talent level. Another triumph among many solid efforts the clearly brilliant and effusive Holland has strung together, this should certainly be a popular item among listeners and critics, and is a strong contender for best jazz CD of 2008.
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AllMusic Review by Michael G. Nastos