Craig Taborn, Dave Holland, Kevin Eubanks, Eric Harland. Cité de la Musique et de la Danse, Strasbourg. 8th November 2013. Review by Sebastian Scotney
The main hall of the Cité de la Musique et de la Danse in Strasbourg, designed by Henri Gaudin, is a good place to celebrate. The hall, opened in 2006, staged the first concert of the 28th annual Jazzdor Festival last night. It has a confidence and a grandeur about it, as befits a city with European capital status. The Mayor of Strasbourg, Roland Ries, was on hand to announce that Jazzdor has just been the object of an agreement recognizing its cultural significance, and signed by the four levels of government – national, regional, departmental and municipal. With the arrival of a new sponsor in the form of the Crédit Agricole, the festival, which unites, juxtaposes and celebrates the divergent trends of European and world jazz, can now plan forward for up to four years, with its funding secure.
I was staggered to discover that this grand hall actually has a capacity of just 500, it feels so much larger. The opening concert – for which demand for tickets had understandably far outstripped supply – featured Dave Holland’s Prism Quartet. This super-group were on the penultimate leg of an extensive tour. The band also had a celebration of their own, it was drummer Eric Harland’s birthday. To that purpose, they finished with a composition by Harland full of joy entitled « Choir ». It asserted the drummer’s uninhibited virtuosity, and brought home the point emphatically that this is a feature which also characterizes the whole group.
For a band which had been on the road for seven weeks they seemed box-fresh and communicated constant enjoyment. Their 100-minute set felt a lot shorter. The quartet has got to the point of complete accord and played-in-ness. The harder you listened, the more there was going on and constantly flying past : echoes of 70s rock, of country, a sudden switch to a Cuban clave rhythm, precipitous removals and then reinstatements or shifts of the pulse.
All these transitions, accelerations, decelerations, intensity builds in the music, moves into and out of solo features seemed to happen uniformly, organically, and effortlessly. Dave Holland as the elder statesman of this band appeared renewed and refreshed by it. Guitarist Kevin Eubanks sat centre-stage, and played all evening without consulting a single note of music, his right hand flashing up and down to the point of becoming invisible. He had fifteen years (1995-2010) directing the band on the Jay Leno’s Tonight Show and just radiates to the others a sense of his enjoyment, the joy that there is nothing to get in the way of making music. Craig Taborn was equally at home bringing forward the clean tone of the grand piano as playing with the range of distortion to be derived from a Fender Rhodes. His composition, « The True Meaning of Determination », with its loping asymmetries and sense of groove and freedom, was a definite highlight.
Precision, passion and unanimity. The 15-day festival (I’m here by invitation of Jazzdor for the first weekend) has raised its tall banner and is under way.