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Dave Holland: Consummate Bassist

Lazaro Vega By

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This interview was first published at All About Jazz in May 1999 and is part of our ongoing effort to archive pre-database material.

Bassist Dave Holland brings the flexible structures and varied instrumental colors of his Grammy nominated Quintet to several Michigan locations in the second week of April. On the 7th the group presents an afternoon masterclass at the University of Michigan followed by an evening performance at the Bird of Paradise Jazz Club in Ann Arbor. On Thursday, April 8th they'll be at the Dalton Center Recital Hall, Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo. Then Friday, April 9th Holland's "Points of View" quintet closes the 1998-99 season of the Classic Jazz Series at the St. Cecilia Music Society's Royce Auditorium, 24 Ransom Ave. NE, Grand Rapids, MI. Tickets for the Grand Rapids concert are $17 and available through the Broadway Theatre Guild. On April 10th the quintet will be heard at a private, catered party in a comfortable East Grand Rapids living room. The following night, they'll play at the Knitting Factory in New York.

Blue Lake Public Radio's Lazaro Vega spoke by phone with Holland at his home in Saugerties, New York.

Lazaro Vega: The last time your were in Grand Rapids, 1996, was with Herbie Hancock's band featuring drummer Gene Jackson and saxophonist Craig Handy.

Dave Holland: We had a lot of fun during that time. We did a lot of touring with that group.

LV: So, you're in a residency at Eastman now?

DH: No, I finished that. That was last week. I'm home now. Just got back a couple of days ago, and I'm just taking a few days rest and then I'll be getting ready to go back out on tour with the band again.

LV: Well, congratulations on the Grammy nomination.

DH: Thank you. Thank you. We were very pleased with that. Yes, it's nice to have the work recognized and I'm really particularly happy with this group and these individuals. They're outstanding players and they really work beautifully together and the music is very much, I think, appropriate for this group of people. There's a nice relationship between the musicians who are playing this particular music. It's a good time to be working with this group.

LV: It's interesting, too, to kind of compare the band's you had in the 1980's to this group. Especially the trombone: Julian Priester compared to Robin Eubanks is kind of interesting.

DH: Yes. Yes.

LV: Would you draw any musical differences for me, or...

DH: No. I don't usually like to compare musicians. They're both really excellent trombonists. They just have their own unique individual styles, which is the great thing about this music: all the different approaches that there are, you know. I have a great deal of fun playing with both of them. They're both excellent musicians.

LV: I wasn't trying to get into anything negative there.

DH: No, I know that. I don't know quite know how to speak of them in comparison, you know. I can speak about their individual qualities.

LV: As a bandleader, this new band, how do you feel it compares to what you had been doing in the 1980's with the other group?

DH: It's kind of a continuation of it. In my mind, anyway, the music is a continuous stream of things that happens. One develops into another and new connections are made and new things are happening. I see a slight difference in the kind of compositions we're working on now. The forms are perhaps a little more developed than what we were using in the '80s. Along with that, I think a lot of what we learned from the 1980's group is being put to work now. So there's continuity there. We're kind of building on things. And Robin Eubanks was in that band, in fact. The last record we did with that quintet was called Razor's Edge and Robin was on that particular record. He took over from Julian in, I think, 1986.

LV: So you've had a long time to develop a musical rapport with him.

DH: Well, yeah. Robin I think the longest of all the members of the group. Steve Nelson was in a previous quartet that I had that recorded an album called Dream of the Elders. And he and I played together on a record date that we did for Tony Reedus, the drummer. Tony introduced us as players. Although I knew Steve, we hadn't played together before that moment.

I met Billy Kilson around '87 when I took a trip up to Boston to play some of my big band music with a local big band. Billy was in that. So, we've known each other since then, also.

Chris Potter I knew when he first came to New York. He's the current member of the group. Chris came to New York when he was 17 or 18. We did a record together. I played on one of his recent records. It was a quartet record he did with John Scofield and Jack DeJohnette and myself, Unspoken. That is a very nice record, and I really enjoyed working with him and admired the way he put the music together and the way it was done. So when we had an opening in the band last year for a saxophonist I asked Chris to fill in.

However, he won't be coming to Grand Rapids. We're coming with Antonio Hart, who's also been working with me in some formations. We went to China recently to play as a quartet with Steve Nelson and Billy Kilson, and Antonio's done some work with the quintet already. He's somebody that I've really enjoyed the times we've played together. He's a really great player; has a lot of spirit and brings his own personal thing into the music, which I like a lot.

I like to hear individuality. It broadens out the scope of the band.

LV: Antonio Hart seems to have a really sharp attack, a fiery, hot sounding alto.

DH: Yeah, yeah. He's a great player. As is Chris, also.

LV: All of them are. Chris Potter came to Grand Rapids after he had his ear infection and he couldn't play his saxophone, so he played piano all night and he was burnin.'

DH: Great. He's very talented.

LV: We've been living with your Points of View record now for a while. And I know you've been out on the road with them since, what, last September?

DH: Well, it hasn't been continuous, but, yes, since last September. The record came out then and we did touring through 'till the end of December and then we just picked up now in February and March then started working again in the States.

LV: My point would be that of course in a working band like this that's touring the music is evolving all the time on the bandstand, and I imagine there's some other compositions that we might not have heard before.

DH: Yes. Well, yes, we've been playing some new compositions since last year. We went in the studio and recorded them in December. So they're part of our repertoire that we're playing. And we're also still playing, of course, some of the music from Points of View as well. So we're mixing it up. But, yeah, there will be some new pieces I'm sure we'll be playing on the visit there.

LV: Could we talk a little bit about that? On Points of View, I really like "Herbaceous," "Metamorphos" and "Ario." Those three just kill me.

DH: Oh, well, great.

LV: Especially "Metamorphos," there's something there. Kilson really fits that pocket.

DH: Yeah. He's a great player. He's got a great sense of a groove but it's not one- dimensional. He's got lots of different ways of presenting it. The dynamic range that he uses is great, too. It makes for a lot of drama in the music.

LV: One thing that I noticed about drummer Gene Jackson that was really special about his playing, that was his touch.

DH: Gene is a very great player, too. He has a very nice touch.

LV: But the whole idea of working without a harmony instrument, per se, no guitar or piano...

DH: Well, the vibraphone provides harmony. He plays chords at different times in the music. That's one of the things that Steve does, but he also plays single line things, also, to outline the harmony. He's got some very special ways of accompanying. He's a wonderful accompanist. He's sparse, but it comes in all the right places.

It's an interesting sounding combination that's for sure. The vibes kind of bring a transparency to the sound, and the brass of the trombone on certain tracks mixes with soprano or alto saxophone. Of course when Chris Potter is with us he's playing tenor saxophone as well. There are a lot of different colors we can get out of the group.

LV: Which is always so exciting as a composer, I would think, that you have so many different things to draw upon.

DH: We're discovering on the new record, the one we just recorded, the music that's on there is the result of having played another 12 or 13 months since we made the first record Points of View. The music that's been written more fully understands what the group can do in certain ways. I mean it's just, again, another step along. It's the next generation for the record of this particular band. I'm pleased to see that happen.

LV: So, were you happy with the performances that you gave in Chicago recently?

DH: Yes I was. We were really pleased with the music, where the music went, and the audience reaction to it. We had some very good crowds who came out to see the band. People enjoyed the music. It was a very good time. We had some great reviews there also.

LV: Yeah, a couple of my friends from Grand Rapids drove to the Jazz Showcase to see you... That's just the way people feel about this group. It's really something else.

DH: I think the band is on to something. It's got a special energy and sound. We're all very involved and enjoying it tremendously.

LV: In terms of your influences I know you've played with everybody from Anthony Braxton to Bonnie Raitt. You've gone this whole gamut of sounds but primarily post-Miles stuff. I'm wondering how the freedom you might have encountered with Anthony and some of your experiences with Circle, plus what you've done with Herbie Hancock and in more groove oriented bands like Gateway, how would that all coalesce in this group, or how does it influence it or not influence it?

DH: All the music feeds itself. At least it does in my case. The most recent things, say, the work I've been doing with Herbie the last few years up to last year was tremendously inspiring because Herbie is such a great improviser, and such a master at what he does. So it was very inspiring for me to work with him.

You take that with you after the experience has happened, and put what you learned into your own music.

So the experiences all feed each other. Obviously the thing I'm doing with my group is a focus on the things that I'm really trying to develop in my playing and in the composing and things like that. All the other things that I'm fortunate enough to do, the ones that interest me with good music and good players just feed the creative juices. That stops you from getting too narrow and too introspective also. It allows you to go outside your own world. Also, it's very nice not to be the bandleader sometimes and have somebody else make decisions.

LV: In terms of your composition, it seems like there's very multi-linear music where you have the ability to pair off in different groups and it's not always just the quintet then solo and then the quintet then solo. There are different things happening. Would you elaborate on what areas of composition you're working on in this band?

DH: I think in a broad way we're trying to combine the elements of improvisation and composition in a way that makes for interesting transitions between one and the other and combines both. In a more detailed way I think we're looking at different possibilities of how certain forms influence the improvising. Having a structure of this kind or that kind. Structures that are not symmetric or chord movements that create certain illusions. I don't know. Just developing a language that has interest for myself and the players with us. And they're all doing the same thing. They' re all excellent composers also and we've been fortunate to have compositions contributed by the individual members of the group, too, as "Metamorphos" is Robin Eubanks' tune.

LV: Oh is it? I wasn't aware of that. I just dug it.

DH: Yes. Well so you should. It's an excellent piece. That's precisely my point: everybody brings his own take on what the band can do. The composer, they get an idea for a setting for the band to function in, to improvise in. Each person brings a different point of view, so to speak.

LV: On a more philosophical level, with the telecommunications revolution the people of the world are getting more and more in contact with each other. People of diverse religions, languages and culture are more in contact. That can cause problems or it can cause great things to happen. It seems to me that most of the time the Artists are finding the great things that can happen. Artists seem to promote a more harmonious thing because they speak the same language. Do you know what I mean?

DH: Yes, whatever the art form is transcends the language barrier, because of the symbolism and so on.

LV: Do you think about that?

DH: Well of course. And I've been lucky to be in a generation where travel is relatively quick. I won't say it's easy or comfortable. But you can cover large distances quite quickly, and it's meant we've had the opportunities to tour in ways that weren't possible 40 years ago.

One sees the same emotions in the audience no matter where you go so you realize quite quickly underneath our basic cultural differences and reference points that there's an essence of humanity that resonates everywhere.

In its best form we'll keep the individuality to some extent. I think identity is important for people, and identification with their past and their ancestors as well as identification with the future is important for continuity. So I think that we're going to have a realization of that. I don 't think it's going to be just sort of a homogenous whole, at least not for a long time. Maybe that will come and hopefully we will maintain the best of all the various cultures, sensitivities and sensibilities and we'll have a wonderful world race of people. I don't know if that will happen in the near future, but I suppose that is where it would go ultimately.

LV: We could be in the early infancy of something like that.

DH: Well communication is the first step, isn't it? That's why the artists are, as you say, important. But it's also now we have so much access to communication.

I see in India, for instance, there's a man who's donating cell phones to all the villages in India. Every Indian village is going to have one cell phone, and it's being given to a woman. So that village now can be connected to the world. Whereas you can't lay landlines and do all the things that they used to have to do, now a cell phone works anywhere.

So this puts it in the hands of people who didn't have it before, that kind of contact with the outside world and an end to isolation, in a sense. It has a good and a bad side to it. I think we have to move into the future carefully. But in the end you have to embrace the changes that are happening and try to make them work in the best way you can to the benefit of people.
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