JAZZ: Dave Holland Quartet, London

Phil Johnson is enthralled by the conquering hero's homecoming
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The Independent Culture
It's difficult, admittedly, to imagine Miles Davis as a kind of Kevin Keegan figure, but here at Ronnie Scotts 28 years ago the young Dave Holland's ability with the double-bass impressed Davis so much that he signed him up right then and there and took him off to New York to play for his team. What followed was some of the best music of Miles's brilliant career, with the In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew albums, both of which stand not only as great works in their own right but as seminal texts in the great electro-jazz crossover experiment of the late-Sixties and Seventies. In the intervening years, Holland's Wolverhampton accent has moved west to join him and he now presents the figure of a genuinely mid-Atlantic man, the vowel-sounds and manners as acculturated to New York as his emphatically swinging music.

On their opening, epic, number "The Winding Way", the band produced immediately the kind of driving momentum that most groups can only dream of, and they just kept on driving, for almost half an hour. The drummer, Billy Kilman, was simply astounding. Half-raised from his drum-seat throughout, like a jockey going for the finish, his whole body seemed joined to some invisible spring-mechanism, the wrists bending back so far as he unleashed the parabolic arcs of the sticks, that you feared that his hands might suddenly fly off into the audience. And if so, that he'd simply pick another pair out of the kit-bag with his teeth without so much as missing a beat. Kilman was so supple that changes of tempo could be negotiated without the clunking of musical gears that makes most complex time signatures in jazz sound like King Crimson on a bad day.

Holland's choice of the other musicians revealed him as an astute manager himself, picking players to make up a team. While Kilman was all energy, vibraphonist Steve Nelson was a quiet and canny schemer, underpinning the rhythms with spare, beautifully weighted mallet-shots.

The intonation of soprano and alto saxophonist Eric Person has a strong Coltrane influence, which supplied the airy spirituality to complement Kilman's fire and Nelson's water. And Holland's bass, of course, was the earth, deeply grounded to the pulse but quite astonishingly melodic. At the conclusion of one heroic solo the polite if enthusiastic opening-night applause was interrupted by a huge scream of approval from someone at the back. Holland looked shocked, but it was right. The conquering hero had returned home and the ritual needed attending to.

Dave Holland Quartet plays Ronnie Scotts, London W1 tonight, 8.30pm (0171-439 0747)

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