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Dave Holland Sextet

Regattabar at the Charles Hotel

Friday, Sept. 19

For the Boston jazz scene, Regattabar is about as classy as it gets. High-rollers in tailored suits like to mix and order $86 bottles of champagne, and mellow out after a day of tapping their blackberries. Its best asset is that it can entertain this crowd without losing sight of jazz’s groovy, down-home feel: those same high-rollers are sitting happily next to Berklee students in hoodies and ripped jeans. There’s no stage — only a wood floor in one corner of the room. Big names in jazz come and stand a yard in front of the audience, and no one pays it any mind. There aren’t any barriers here (save the $86 champagne tab for you and me) — this place is about the music.

Dave Holland is the same way. A big player in the avant-garde and jazz fusion movements, Holland and his sextet — consisting of Antonio Hart, Alex “Sasha” Sipiagin, Rob Eubanks, Eric Harland, and Steve Nelson (sitting in for pianist Mulgrew Miller) — moved seamlessly between styles, at once a smooth swing, then a defiant, Art Blakey-esque drive. There are no chapters in this book — the set goes by, and the whole room is still grooving, with Holland’s drive keeping on.

The first tune was “Ebb and Flow,” a true-to-its-name jaunt with both tight fanfares and mellow rubato feels, featuring a solid trombone solo from Eubanks. Dave Holland keeps a low profile in this one, helping keep a solid pulse while drummer Harland embellishes, using the whole set to help tell the story. It was a good opener that really showcased the tightness of the ensemble.

“Mr. B.,” a dedication to jazz bassist Ray Brown who died in 2002, came next. More swing than the last tune, the song was a solid, optimistic elegy. The sax solo came first: it used lots and space in the solo, slowly working up to gigantic flurries, catching ideas by the wing as they came. Once again, solid work by Harland in switching meters, and an entrancing solo on vibes by Nelson.

“Interception” followed, charging in with a hard bop feel, a good counterpoint to the more fusion-y cuts beforehand. Trumpet Player Sipiagin was all chops on this one, though the high point of his solo seemed early. It was definitely a high point to the set, though, warranting a fist pound from Hart. Holland and Harland then went into an extended conversation, trading bars at a time, playfully imitating each other and getting a few laughs. Harland followed with a Blakey-style extended solo with a sock-knocking ending, which rose into an ensemble climax, and then quickly died away leaving only a trombone note lingering.

Adrenaline still coursing, the group started up with the somber “Processional.” Nelson, on vibes, played a haunting solo — his best in the show. Sipiagin, playing the flugel, was killer — if you haven’t heard screech flugel before, check this guy out. Sax and trombone traveled in solid harmony on this one. Holland did one of his first big solos in “Processional”, and it was worth the wait; it was one of the most emotional tunes of the night.

Next was the best tune of the night, “Rivers Run” — a nearly fifteen-minute collage of styles, that was a dedication to Sam Rivers, Holland’s old bandmate and the coolest octogenarian alive today. Antonio Hart’s prayer-like screeching and belching produced a haunting, ornette-ish wailing, laid over an Arabian feel in the bass. Assured melodic lines in the bass — for which Holland is known — came out best in this tune. Harmon-muted, the trumpet developed a solid nocturnal feel.

I checked my watch, it had been over 90 minutes. Every second of the show felt like an eternity since the beginning, but when the group walked off, I wondered where the time went. The audience wasn’t quite done, though, so we all got a solid encore on “Pass It On,” a dedication to Ed Blackwell, and a entreaty to pass on the love of music to young people.

After the show, I chatted outside with some of the guys who’d been listening to the show. The general consensus was that it was a solid set, perhaps not as solid as Holland’s Extended Play: Live at Birdland that I’d been listening to earlier, but still strong. A few guys expressed understandable regret that some of Holland’s other mates, like Chris Potter or Mulgrew Miller, couldn’t be there.

I spoke to a dude with a leather jacket and a Frank Zappa mustache for a while — traded opinions, stories, waxed eloquent about the old cats, bitched about the weather. I had never met him, but I felt more of a connection with him than with a lot of the people I deal with daily. That’s a product of a good show: everyone in the place is so tuned into the music that they all walk out with something in common. I could have had a decent conversation with anybody in that joint — the exec in the wool suit, and the dude with bloodshot eyes and a hemp poncho. No barriers.