At the 50th anniversary of the Monterey Jazz Festival, held in September 2007, bassist Dave Holland, pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba, saxophonist Chris Potter, and drummer Eric Harland performed the music you hear on this CD twice-first on the main stage, then again at Dizzy’s Den, a smaller, more intimate hall on the festival grounds. The main stage premiere thrilled the crowd, to be sure, but something downright magical happened the second time the band played.

“There was really an electric atmosphere from the audience,” recalls Holland. “There was an energy we all felt, that kind of circular energy that goes on between the musicians and the audience. It’s a very powerful thing when it really takes off.”

From the first urgent notes of Harland’s “Treachery,” you can feel a special situation unfolding. We are fortunate that tape was rolling.

Over its 52-year history, the Monterey Jazz Festival has done well at capturing such moments. You probably already know about Charles Mingus’ extraordinary 1964 performance of Meditations on Integration, the debut of the John Handy Quintet the following year and Charles Lloyd’s Forest Flower the year after that.

Though all four players come from vastly different backgrounds, they share at least three important characteristics, not the least of which is a penchant for rhythmic complexity (and the dexterity to deal with it). Anyone familiar with Holland’s work knows that his ability to swing with locomotive momentum through odd time signatures (or combinations thereof, within a single piece), jagged patterns and polyrhythmic jungles is legendary. Rubalcaba, for his part, has internalized a host of traditional Latin American rhythms, but rather than manifesting them in a folkloric way, he extends them into the modern idiom. Fans of Eric Harland-who may know his work with Blanchard-has recently made a pronounced move toward the world rhythms, as well.
“I’m more influenced by Zakir Hussain these days,” says Eric, who has been working with the Indian tabla player in a trio with Charles Lloyd, on the album Sangam. “His consciousness of rhythm opens up a realm for us to communicate on so many polyrhythmic levels, as well as the discovery of different sounds and textures.”

“We’ve all been working on how to work within different meters and not have it sound like an academic exercise, but make it sound like music,” says Potter, whose mastery of odd time signatures is evident in his work with Holland as well as on his own.

All four of these players also privilege the idea of jazz as a conversation (as opposed to oration or, God forbid, soliloquy), which means they are all keen listeners as well as speakers. They can turn on a dime when someone else tosses in a dollar, remaining open to the flow of the music as it manifests itself.

Finally, these players also share a third, more elusive quality, one the Andalusian poet Garcia Lorca called duende, and which might best be translated as soulfulness. There is never a moment on this album when-like the bullfighter and bull in the ring-you feel the music is being played for stakes any lower than life and death. This is the real deal.