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Dave Holland: A Giant, and Still Growing

R.J. DeLuke By

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This large group has been a natural development for me, I think, in terms of stretching the boundaries of what I'm trying to do as an individual.
Dave Holland speaks right to the point. Assured. Precise. Confident. The British accent of the England-born musician is perhaps a bit worn off from being in the United States for so long, since 1968 when the 22-year old relatively unknown bassist was called across the ocean to join Miles Davis at a time when the Price of Darkness was about change the world yet again, this time with his mysterious, raucous and marvelous electronic explorations.

Holland's come a long way since then, playing with so many important and influential musicians, then rising himself as one of those whom others look to for example. Through Monk and Getz, Anthony Braxton and Chick Corea, Sam Rivers, John McLaughlin, Betty Carter, Joe Henderson, Jack DeJohnette, Herbie Hancock, Elvin Jones and on and on. While he still plays in different musical environments, he's come into his own in recent years with a superior band, one of the most exciting in jazz. As a player and bandleader, Holland walks were few others tread.

He's had a helluva year in 2002. His band, his Not For Nothin' CD, his own marvelous playing and his move to the forefront of jazz have all garnered him honors from magazines and jazz associations seemingly every time a poll is conducted. If he were an athlete, he'd be Jordan — scoring leader, All-Star, league MVP and World Champion all in one. And while often awards are extremely subjective, this time they got it right. There's not a better working band out there, no one who puts out such consistently outstanding recordings, and no one who plays better bass, If all that doesn't shouldn't bring him Musician of the Year, what should?

Hang on to your hats, though. There's more coming. A lot more. He isn't resting on his laurels, but rather looking ahead, grateful to be appreciated, but too level-headed to take a curtain call when there's so much more to be accomplished.

"The last few years has been a very nice development in terms of exposure the band's had and the music's had to the public, and an acknowledgement from both the critics and the public. That's been very satisfying," says Holland, "but you have to keep these things in perspective, of course, because they're very meaningful on one level. But on another level, there's a lot of great music out here and a lot of people that deserve credit for it. When you see a poll with the names in it, all of whom are great players, they're all great individuals. It's almost impossible to say this one is better than the other."

Be that as it may, the Dave Holland Quintet, together for five years now — Steve Nelson on vibes, Chris Potter on sax, Robin Eubanks on trombone and Billy Kilson on drums — is dazzling. At the Freihofer Jazz Festival in Saratoga Springs, NY, in late June the band tore it up — driving, exotic, exploratory, intense and together. Very, VERY together.

The previous CD, Prime Directive is as fine as the latest one, part of the process of building a personal dialog for the band, which only plays material written by those within its ranks. On the heels of all that comes the Dave Holland Big Band on a CD titled What Goes Around, due for release this month. The music is fabulous. It's not a swing band. It takes the quintet and its music at its core, keeps the spirit of the small band, and presents different colors and textures. It's dynamite.

But wait. There are quintet tours and a big band tours coming up. Holland is also going to release a live quintet album next year and has a second Big Band album in mind. In his spare time, a CD will come out next year with Holland outside the main band, playing with friends and colleagues John Scofield, Joe Lovano and Al Foster. (I don't think the band is going to be going out on tour, because we're all quite involved with our own individual projects," he says. "But it's nice from time to time to do something different. I find it refreshing. It gets you outside of your own universe for a minute and gives you a chance to have some diverse musical experiences. Those things are still important to me.")

Whew! Quite a trip for a largely self-taught bassist from a working class English family who wasn't listening to jazz growing up. That trip is far from over.

"It's the first time I've put together music for a big band. The idea started a couple of years ago when we got offered the invitational series in Montreal, to put on a series of concerts [the 200 Montreal Jazz Festival]," says Holland. "We decided to make one of the concerts a large group, which was something we wanted to do for a while."

To round out the big band, he chose players he felt could add something as soloists, as well as be good section players. But he didn't want a stock big band playing swing arrangements.

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