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Dave Holland: Consistently Exceptional

R.J. DeLuke By

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Technique as a goal in itself doesn't mean much. I've always tried to develop my technique out of a necessity to play something, rather than to just demonstrate speed on the instrument ... (it) should serve your musical concept.
This interview, originally published on September 29, 2008, is being reprinted to coincide with the summer 2009 tour of The Monterey Quartet featuring bassist Dave Holland, saxophonist Chris Potter, pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba and drummer Eric Harland. The group's live album, Live at the 2007 Jazz Festival (Concord, 2009), will be released on August 25.

Dave HollandIt's been a long time since Dave Holland's small hands strummed a ukulele at about the age of five, an endeavor that eventually led him to the guitar and entry in a fledgling band as a teenager around his Wolverhampton, England, home. They played rock and R&B that were popular around 1960. They also decided the needed a bassist, and Holland stepped up, playing what he calls a broomstick bass—"a stick and a piece of string and a box."

"I took to it very quickly," he says matter-of-factly, "and started listening a lot to the bass and how people played and to what was going on in those days."

Nowadays, when someone needs a bassist, Holland, now 62 and one of most iconic bassists on the planet, is probably among the first names that pops to mind. It's how he ended up playing with the likes of Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter in recent years. That's how it's been since the days he came from his native England at the age of 22 to play with Miles Davis. As a much sought-after player, he cavorted musically from that time forth with the likes of Anthony Braxton, Chick Corea, Sam Rivers, Betty Carter, Joe Henderson, Thelonious Monk, Jack DeJohnette, Kenny Wheeler, Nick Brignola, Joe Lovano, Pat Metheny and so many more. He's still in demand, but not so much as a sideman anymore—though he keeps his hand in that bag with an illustrious group of collaborators.

But landing Holland, one of the great musicians on the planet, as a sideman isn't a high possibility anymore. He's become one of the great bandleaders, not super common for bassists. He's got so many of his own irons in the fire that he can choose when and where to depart from that, this past summer with Hancock's 2008 River of Possibilities tour. In the current business climate, it's a testament to Holland and his stature in the music community that he can get his projects accomplished, whether it's his quintet, his big band, a quartet that played the Newport Jazz Festival in August (the same weekend he helped Hancock deliver pop, funk and jazz hits), or other things that come to his fertile musical mind. And those things seem to be continually brewing.

He's had a critically acclaimed quintet for over a decade that's still alive, even as individual members are making their own musical statements. He has more plans for his big band, similarly lauded in recent years. Holland might record the group that just played at Newport—pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba, saxophonist Chris Potter and drummer Eric Harland. And he's planning a project with Spanish flamenco players.

His custom is to document the projects along the way, and he's done it again, with the September, 2008 release of new music from a sextet formed about a year-and-a-half ago, a superb group comprised of long-time comrade Robin Eubanks on trombone, Antonio Hart on saxophone, Alex Sipiagin on trumpet, Mulgrew Miller on piano and Harland on drums. Pass It On is a significant musical statement, beautifully executed and satisfying on all levels.

With everything on his plate, it would be understandable if the quality of a Holland concert or recording slipped a bit. But it hasn't. The consistently excellent quality of his bands and recordings is extraordinary. Chapter Index

  1. The Recording
  2. Bandleader
  3. Holland's Record Label
  4. Playing the Bass
  5. Projects

The Recording

"The recordings come out of projects that we're doing," says Holland in his gentlemanly fashion. "That gives them some momentum. [The septet] did several gigs and then, prior to the recording, we played for a week at the Blue Note in New York. So we had a nice warm-up to the recording session. I think the band was really familiar with the music and with each other by the time we got to record it."

This project allowed him to write and arrange for a thicker sound than his quintet. It's also the first time he's recorded under his own name with a pianist, though he has recorded with many master pianists like Hank Jones, Hancock and Corea over the years. (Circle, with Corea in the early 1970s was a cooperative band).

Dave Holland "I can't remember a CD I've done with piano. Guitar and vibes, but this is the first time I used the piano and it was a big part of what the piano was about. To have a chance to play with these two musicians in the rhythm section—Eric Harland on drums, who I played with briefly several years ago and had always wanted to do more with, and Mulgrew Miller, with whom I played on a few occasions, but not enough. I think he's an incredible, wonderful musician, so this was an opportunity to bring that rhythm section together."


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