Dave Holland: San Francisco, CA, February 7-10, 2013

Harry S. Pariser By

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Dave Holland Residency
San Francisco Jazz Center
San Francisco, CA
February 7-10, 2013

Dave Holland was beaming ear to ear. And he had every reason to be, as the 66-year-old bassist was center stage helping to inaugurate a magnificent new hall, the showplace of the San Francisco Jazz Festival. The past two weeks had marked the first that the center had been open, and while a multitude of acts had performed, these had been special as opposed to regularly scheduled performances. Holland's solo performance marked the first of his residency—a four-night stint that saw him perform solo, in duet, with his Quintet and with his group Prism.

That Tuesday evening, the 7th, he was introduced by Randall Kline, the founder of SFJazz, who described Holland as "one of my idols." As a bassist who is a band leader and not merely a sideman, Holland has created innumerable albums and CDs, including his solo bass recording Emerald Tears (1977) (ECM)—which Kline had mentioned as being a particular favorite of his—and Ones All (ECM, 1993), and Life Cycle (Intuition Music, 1982), a solo cello recording. Holland began playing music early. At age four he had been working on the ukulele when a fortuitous discovery of the recordings of bassist Ray Brown turned him on to jazz and eventually led to finding himself on U.S. soil at the tender age of 22, having been summoned by the illustrious late trumpeter Miles Davis to join his quintet.

Holland introduced his first tune of the evening, "Homecoming," a tune (recorded on Ones All) that "popped into my head in Scotland" when he had returned to Britain to tour. The somber yet springy tune had Holland fingering up and down the bass He ended the number with an ornate flourish, rapidly strumming the bass at a 45-degree angle.

Next came Collin Walcott's "Three Step Dance," also from One's All. Here, Holland elevated a foot as he intently plucked the strings. Then came "Little Girl I'll Miss You," a ballad composed by saxophonist Bunky Green. The delicately-phrased tune featured some precise fingering as his hands cast spiderlike shadows on the bass.

Then Holland plunged into the evocative, fast-paced "The Whirling Dervish"—a signature tune he had recorded in 1985 as part of the World Trio (which comprised percussionist Mino Cinelu and guitarist Kevin Eubanks, who appeared with Holland's Prism the last night of the residency). An untitled improvisation, carefully fingered, followed and concluded to sustained applause.

Explaining the origin of the next tune, "Hooveling," Holland told of his naiveté while visiting New York City in 1968. One man had quite effectively pulled his leg by convincing Holland that the term for his method of moving through crowds was called "hooveling." Holland attempted to recreate the man's movements onstage through rapid fingering, his left hand swooping down the bass to join his right.

Holland then introduced yet another tune: "Under Redwoods." "Quite a few years ago I was on the Russian River. There was a deck outside that was fantastic. I would bring my bass outside and play." The lovely, meditative ode to nature followed.

Holland's version of "Goodbye Porkpie Hat," which came next, was a lyrical, intently fingered homage to the late bassist Charles Mingus who, in turn, had composed it to honor saxophonist Lester Young.

Holland encored with "Mr. P. C.," another tune on Ones All and one penned by the legendary saxophonist John Coltrane as a dedication to Paul Chambers, the late jazz bassist who has also influenced Holland's playing.

Two nights later, following a duet with pianist Kenny Barron (and the night before an appearance with his ensemble Prism), Holland brought his quintet to the center. On the stage with him were Steve Nelson—who played vibraphone and marimba while dexterously switching amongst a variety of lollypop-bright blue, green and red mallets, sometimes three in one hand at a time; trombonist Robin Eubanks, a member of the SFJAZZ Collective; saxophonist Mark Turner and drummer Nate Smith.

Introducing Holland and his ensemble that evening, Capital Public Radio's Gary Vercelli told of his friend's astonishment when he related that he would be driving from Sacramento to San Francisco that evening to see a bassist perform. He explained to him that Holland was not just a bassist, and told us that "These gentlemen mean a lot to me."

Holland announced "Walkin the Walk," and Nelson chimed in, adding sound and color with his mallets. The next tune, the lovely "The Eyes Have it," was dedicated to his granddaughter Sarah and featured a trombone solo by Eubanks, luscious melodic colors by Nelson, and forceful drumming by Smith, and concluded with a sax solo by Turner.

"The Sum of All Parts," described as "a musical portrait of Rio de Janeiro," was a rollicking trombone-infused tribute to that vibrant Brazilian city. A trombone solo was coupled with Smith's heavy beat on the drums, with Nelson changing the sonic color of the piece, rotating from vibraphone to marimba and back.

The subsequent soft and sonorous "Veil of Tears" opened with a somber bass solo followed by sweet and melodic saxophone from Turner on tenor as Smith chimed in on mallets.

"Lucky Seven" from Critical Mass (Sunnyside, 2006) offers a rollicking tenor solo by Turner, who bobbed up and down as he soloed as Nelson played the marimba with two sets of green mallets. Eubanks offered a spirited trombone solo, while Smith soloed on the sticks, employing his characteristic heavy beat.

Following a standing ovation, the ensemble encored with "Easy Does It," a short tune about New Orleans. Another standing ovation failed to bring the band back, and the ecstatic audience exited reluctantly.

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