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Dave Holland: Consistently Exceptional

By Published: July 6, 2009
The way Holland writes for the horn section gives the band a big rich sound, with nice harmonies as they play contrapuntal lines when playing as a section. "I had that instrumentation in my first quintet, with Kenny Wheeler (trumpet), Steve Coleman (sax) and Julian Priester (trombone). I always enjoyed that three-horn front line. It gives you so many possibilities. One of the reasons I wanted to revisit that instrumentation for this project is because it does give you a lot more arranging possibilities—backgrounds and transition bits—which certainly give a very different sound than the quintet."

Pass It On features new arrangements by Holland of compositions from past recordings. He also includes two new compositions, "Fast Track" and the title track. Eubanks contributed "The Sum of All Parts," which kicks off the CD with a dialog between Harland and Eubanks, the drummer tapping out an exotic rhythm while the trombone sprays out an appropriate melody. It soon grows into a superior piece of band interaction, the group gently rolling along, propelled by Holland and Harland and punctuated by the fine horn section. The leader's fluid bass is highlighted and shows his great affinity for melodic ideas.

"Fast Track" is a good showcase for the inspired piano of Miller, a man not only of chops, but of remarkable taste. The group rolls serenely through the written sections; joyous. "Lazy Snake" is a dreamy stroll, highlighted by the lustrous sound of Sipiagin's excellent trumpet work. He's got great tone and delightful ideas. Hart plays sensually on the ballad "Equality" which, along with "Lazy Snake, is from Dream of the Elders (ECM 1996). He and Eubanks are bright soloists, always acquitting themselves well, whether fiery or more measured. The rhythm section smokes throughout, with the crackling and aggressive drumming of Harland always in step with Holland and Miller. "Rivers Run," from Triplicate (ECM, 1988) and written with saxophonist Sam Rivers in mind, shows the group segueing into free form, but never swaying into something unattractive.

The title track is Holland's dedication to the late, great drummer Ed Blackwell, one of the many giants with whom Holland has performed over his illustrious career. It's an upbeat romp that shows how in synch the group is. It's that way on the entire disk, surely one of the best of 2008.

"The reason I used ["Pass It On"] is because Ed was a great educator as well as a great musician, and was able to communicate the tradition of the music to young players and to introduce them to all the different styles and developments that have happened," says Holland. "Certainly from the prospective of the drums, but also generally. I was lucky enough to see him give workshops on several occasions and witnessed it. I thought this would be a nice dedication to Ed to acknowledge the tradition that he represents and the way he passed it on to the other people." That segued into using the name for the entire disk.

Dave Holland "I thought it worked as a title to an album and the music that we're playing, which has one foot in the tradition and one foot sort of exploring."

On compositions where there were new arrangements, Holland's task was to make full use of the instrumentation. He also revisited them in terms of creative approach, "something that I wanted to see happen with the composition, that would be a new direction ... In the case of some of the [rearranged] compositions, I did actually compose some extra parts to them. I often see compositions as works in progress, and they sometimes resurface after several years and take on a new face or a new relevance."

He adds, "I was looking for a selection of music that I thought worked for the personalities and to the approaches of the players in the group. That was my consideration when putting the music together ... I wanted to put together a CD of music that had a moving progression throughout, where you had solos, but interspersed with those were backgrounds and transition things and so on. It gave it a certain pace to the music. That's one of the things I was looking for with this group.

"It went very quickly. We actually had more time [in the studio] than we needed for doing the CD. We did a couple of extra tracks in the end as well, which means that we had some bonus tracks for various situations like iTunes. In addition to the pieces that are on the CD, there are two other tracks that will be available."

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Holland is a gracious and humble leader who respects the people he hires.

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