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Dave Holland: Past-Present-Future Luster

R.J. DeLuke By

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I’ve always thought creativity is a state of mind. It’s not so much about what you do, but how you do it.
Dave HollandSo far this century, Dave Holland has hit his stride and is enjoying success like few others have matched during the same period of time. He's got the chance to enjoy it now. Make no mistake; it is the fruits of hard labor that he is tasting. And make no mistake that the hard work and the successes bring with it a dose of well-earned satisfaction as Holland eyes his 60th birthday this fall.

Holland is looking forward to many more years of making music and the challenges that new avenues of creation and opportunities for improvisation present. The latest evidence of that is his new recording, Critcial Mass (Dare2, 2006), another gem from the quintet Holland has held together since 1998 with only one personnel change (drummer Nate Smith replaced Billy Kilson a couple years ago; this is Smith's first CD appearance with the band). The release is on his own Dare2 Records, his second recording on the label that followed a long, successful run with ECM Records.

It’s typical that the band had been working over some of the Critical Mass material for a couple years, some for a matter of months, before they stepped into the studio. That’s Holland’s M.O. And the group is already working on music that will likely appear on its next recording—probably late 2007 or early 2008, if past history holds up. People seeing the band on tour over the coming months will hear a bit of both.

The band—Chris Potter on sax, Robin Eubanks on trombone, Steve Nelson on vibes, Smith on drums—brings its identifiable sound to the new CD, but continues to explore different musical ideas. And each band member continues to contribute compositions, which is something their leader encourages.

“ I’m fortunate enough to have musicians who are not only fine individual players and great ensemble players, but they also are composers,” says Holland. “So it just adds another dimension to the contribution that everybody can make to the development of the music and the perspective that we can get from each person’s take on what the band can do.”

From the mainstream mood of the opener “Eyes Have It,” the music has various rhythmic influences and takes different directions. Each of the individuals are up to their usual fine form, Eubanks with the glistening tone and sweet slide and glide, Potter with his serpentine statements that dance and twist, Nelson with his neatly swinging serenity, and polyrhythmic propulsion from Smith. The conversations take place among the group in unison, interweaving at times, and in solo form. Among the gems are “Easy Did It” which has a funky allure and dynamite solos; the seductive “Secret Garden,” “The Leak,” and the part delicate/part raucous “Amator Silenti.” But take your choice. The album is outstanding as a whole.

“It doesn’t sound like a disparity of different styles of writing and things, even though there are a lot of different approaches. There is a unified aspect to it and I think that comes, certainly, from the fact we work together,” the leader says.

The CD is part of a running recorded chronicle of this amazing musician’s career, from his days in his native England where he pretty much taught himself to play the bass, to his encounter’s with that country’s avant-garde musicians, to his tenure with Miles Davis that produced some astounding music like Bitches Brew (Columbia/Legacy, 1979), In a Silent Way (Columbia/Legacy, 1969), Black Beauty (Columbia/Legacy, 1970) and more. But beyond that to years of creation with woodwind multi-instrumentalists Sam Rivers, Anthony Braxton and Joe Lovano, guitarist John Abercrombie, drummers Jack DeJohnette and Roy Haynes, saxophonist Joe Henderson, singer Betty Carter, pianists Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock, and on, and on... and on.

His own band has achieved rare critical and popular acclaim, with albums like Prime Directive (ECM, 1999), Not For Nothin’ (ECM, 20001) and Extended Play: Live at Birdland (ECM, 2003). Then there’s the big band that started a few years back and recorded What Goes Around (ECM, 2002) that won a Grammy. That band is still very much alive and well. Add those recordings, each outstanding, to the total of Holland’s distinguished career

Holland is a serious musician who has pretty much done it all with a who’s who of superb musicians, both renowned and lesser known, but stellar, players. He’s aware of his good fortune. But that work has been the product of musicians recognizing that he is both a virtuoso and a complete team player, capable of fitting into all kinds of musical situations, be they mainstream, ethnic, off-beat, rockish, and beyond. It is also the product of good decisions the level-headed Holland has made along the way.

He’s also quick to point to the support of his family as an important aid that allows Holland to follow his muse, and at the same time navigate the murky, often unforgiving waters of the music industry that have sent many a musician crashing into the rocky shore.

At a point in his life when the sailing is mostly smooth, the soon-to-be-60 Holland took time in August to talk about his band, his new record label and the opportunities it presents in a rapidly changing recording industry, his future projects—including a sextet that will have a three-person horn section and the wonderful Mulgrew Miller on piano—and his past accomplishments and influences. The discussion follows here.

It’s worthy of note that Holland, who’s superb musicianship has broadened in recent years, making itself even more evident with his excellent writing and arranging, both for the quartet and big band, never mentions the instrument he plays.

For the record, he plays the double-bass.

Plays the hell right out of it.

All About Jazz: The new music. It’s the first quintet disk in a little while.

Dave Holland (DH): We usually put an album out about every 18 months. The last one was Overtime (Dare2, 2005), the big band, but it’s the first studio date we’ve done with the quintet in about two years. We had a live recording come out previous to the last big band one (Extended Play: Live at Birdland) previous to the last big band one.


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