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Dave Holland: Consistently Exceptional

By Published: July 6, 2009
"They're a great group of musicians and really fun to play with too," says Holland in his gentlemanly fashion, referring to the sextet, though the sentiment also applies to his longstanding quintet with Potter, Eubanks, vibraphonist Steve Nelson and drummer Nate Smith. "Everybody gets along very well, which I always like. If you have people who like each other as well as enjoy playing music together, you always end up with a very cohesive and communal result. That's one of the things I always look for in the music, that communal statement. It's one of the things I loved about jazz music from the very beginning, the group quality and the fact that it wasn't about just an individual statement. It was about a group working together to create something. I think a lot of the bands I was drawn to, listened to as a young player, were bands that represented that kind of thing.

Dave Holland "Miles was the same. He was a very low-key leader too. If you went to a concert of Miles Davis, you didn't see Miles on the stage all the time. He'd get up there and play his trumpet solos and his part. He was undoubtedly the leader of the group, but he let everybody in the band have plenty of room to express themselves. His way of leading a band, for me, is a great example."

Miles and Duke Ellington, among others, always favored the individuality of the musicians and it became part of the picture that was painted for the audience. Ellington also deliberately composed in that fashion, writing charts with players like Johnny Hodges, Jimmy Hamilton, "Tricky" Sam Nanton, Harry Carney and others in mind. Holland, ever growing as a composer and one who has shown considerable prowess, thinks along similar lines.

"If you have the right musicians, if you have great players," says the bassist, "they know what they are there to do. Then it's just a matter of creating a setting which is going to allow them to do it. Give them opportunity to express themselves. That to me is the main thing. At a certain point, I become the bassist in the band and work from that point of view. Once you set the parameters with the composition and perhaps a little bit of the arrangement, I try to let the musicians tell me where the music is going to go and where they want to take it.

"I try to write music with that potential as well, that gives plenty of room for interpretation on the parts of the individuals."

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Holland's Record Label

Amid everything else, Holland also runs his own record label, Dare2, which he started in 2005 after a long and successful run with ECM. Pass It On is the third release. The first was Holland's big band release Overtime, followed by Critical Mass by the quintet. All are distributed worldwide by Universal, with Pass It On distributed in the U.S. by Decca Records.

Says Holland, "It's a difficult time for the record industry, and it's a transition period from selling CDs to selling MP3 and MP4 files online. I don't know what the share is. It's about a 30 percent share, I think at the moment, of the market that selects downloads (as their way of purchasing music). I think that's changing a lot of things, including the ways of distributing through websites like It's made the access that people have to recorded music much easier.

"Twenty years ago, we'd bring out a record and if your local record store decided not to stock it, we'd come into town to play a gig and nobody could find the record. That's not the case anymore. You don't have to wait and hope the local buyer is going to decide to get four copies of your new album. You can say to people, 'Go to this website. Go to that website.'"

He says it was a case of good timing when he decided to go with Dare2, a move that had been on his mind for a while. Holland was becoming a consistent award-winner with the critics and drawing more mass appeal among fans with his high quality work. In addition to topping jazz magazine polls, Holland was getting Grammy nominations by the bunches for his quintet recordings. Both his big band recordings won Grammy awards for Best Large Jazz Ensemble, What Goes Around (ECM) in 2002 and Overtime in 2005.

"It put us in a good position to decide to do this and, at the same time, to have a good distribution offer. It came down to one man, Daniel Richard, who's the head of Verve Jazz France in Paris. And Wolff Muller, who is the head of Universal in Europe. Both those gentlemen had a lot of faith in what we're doing and the idea of what the label is. They decided to take a chance and offer us the distribution deal. I was very happy that they did.

Dare2 is planning new releases in January, one an octet—the quintet, plus Gary Smulyan on baritone sax, Sipiagin on trumpet, and Hart on alto sax. The other will be the flamenco project Holland started about a year ago with Spanish gypsy flamenco musicians, featuring guitarist Pepe Habichuela, which will be recorded later in 2009.

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Playing the Bass

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