Dave Holland / Dave Holland Quintet

Critical Mass

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AllMusic Review by Jeff Tamarkin

One word that comes to mind when listening to Critical Mass is generosity. Double-bassist Dave Holland, four decades into his career, could certainly be forgiven for taking the word "leader" at its literal meaning, calling all the shots and keeping his musicians at bay. But that's not what he's about, and at any given time Critical Mass could just as easily have been credited to saxist Chris Potter, trombonist Robin Eubanks, vibist/marimbaist Steve Nelson, or drummer Nate Smith. Each player is provided with ample moments in which to take charge, and not fleeting, gratuitous moments but rather significant chunks of solo/lead space. Holland's belief in sharing extends to the area of composition as well. Each bandmember contributes one piece to the album (Holland does claim the other four, however) and, more often than not, uses that opportunity to shapeshift, to push the band -- and make no mistake, this is a band, not a random collection of studio players -- into unexplored territory. That's not to say that Holland takes a back seat -- his presence is always strongly felt -- only that he recognizes that the bass is, first and foremost, a support instrument and he's content with using it as such when the piece calls for it. When he does step in to take the leadership role, he is endlessly creative, commanding in his ability to sidestep predictability and further his own legend. The particular mix of instrumentation here allows for numerous rhythmic and tonal variations as well: on the album's longer pieces, in particular -- Eubanks' exploratory "Full Circle," Holland's appropriately hypnotic "Easy Did It," Nelson's multi-hued "Amator Silenti" -- the quintet's cohesiveness and utmost respect for one another becomes clearer by the minute.

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