13 October 2009

Review: Overtone Quartet at The Kennedy Center

Dave Holland announced to the crowd at the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater Saturday night that the Overtone Quartet is a collective operation. Each member contributes tunes for performance, and all four are given time in the spotlight. When a group consists of such powerful, diverse, and unselfish personalities as Holland, drummer Eric Harland, pianist Jason Moran, and saxophonist Chris Potter, this organizational model often pays dividends. I have mentioned before that Holland is very much a bandleader in the mode of Art Blakey: attracting talented young sidemen and creating an environment in which they can thrive.

And thrive they did on Saturday. The quartet opened with a Harland tune, Treachery. Harland set the tone for the evening with a driving rhythmic pulse, coupled with crisp accents that managed to pack a lot of notes into a little space without sounding clutter. He and Holland were locked in throughout most of the night; it was not uncommon for the two to smile to each other as they settled into a groove.

Indeed, the only disappointment of the evening was that we did not hear much from Moran, one of the most original voices on the piano at the moment. The quartet played one of Moran's tunes, Blue Blocks, and Moran only got two opportunities to stretch out by himself. However, complaining about this is a bit like complaining that you don't drive your Mercedes enough because you spend all your time in your BMW.

The group closed with Interception, from Holland's 1973 album Conference Of The Birds, one of the best jazz albums of that decade. The group tore through the tune's disjointed melody and followed with a frenetic free solo from Potter, with all three bandmates adding wind to his sails. Harland followed with a fantastic excursion of his own, befitting of the Superman t-shirt he wore under his jacket. It was a fitting end to the evening: four dynamic musicians forging their disparate identities into a beautiful cacophony.

Bonus Overtone: Nate Chinen reviews the quartet's September performance at the Blue Note in New York.

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