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Dave Holland & Pepe Habichuela: Hands

John Kelman By

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Sometimes the best indicator of an artist's versatility is in the side projects they accept. Bassist Dave Holland's career could hardly be described as monolithic, with his discography as a leader—ranging from his quintet (Critical Mass (Dare2, 2006)) to his big band (Overtime (Dare2, 2005)) —nothing short of but exemplary. Still, some of the most unexpected revelations have come on peripheral dates, such as Mid-Eastern-informed Thimar (ECM, 1998), with Tunisian oudist Anouar Brahem and British reed man John Surman, or the aptly named World Trio (Intuition, 1995), featuring guitarist Kevin Eubanks and percussionist Mino Cinelu. When Holland shares the marquee, it seems, the only sure thing is the surprise in store.

Which makes the stylistic departure of Hands yet another revelation, and another career highpoint for an artist who has created more influential touchstones throughout his career than can be easily counted. By this point, over a half century on, it cannot be any surprise to hear Holland in virtually any context—not just acquitting himself credibly, but with absolute authenticity. Here, the bassist shares the bill with José Antonio Carmona Carmona, aka Pepe Habichuela—a flamenco guitarist and composer whose purist tendencies have remained open to extracurricular exploration in the jazz world, with past collaborators including trumpeter Don Cherry and bassist Jaco Pastorius.

As much as Hands' emphasis is on the flamenco side of the flamenco-jazz equation—with Habichuela writing or co-writing eight of its ten tracks, and a three guitar/twin percussionist line-up heavy on the cajón—Holland's two compositional contributions manage to add a touch of swing to a date redolent in the multiplicity of flamenco rhythms, ranging from the brighter buleria of "Puente Quabrao" to the darker taranta of "Camaron." Still, it's no particular surprise that, on the bassist's "The Whirling Dervish," the group delivers a knotty head so syncopated that, when it finally does settles into a gentle rhythm, there's a palpable sense of release, while on the more Cuban-centric "Joyride," Habichuela's lyrical delivery of Holland's melody is over the kind of propulsive groove that's been a defining characteristic of the bassist's purer jazz projects.

Truly successful cross-cultural collaboration can only occur when all parties come together with a shared understanding of the broader perspectives imbuing their multifarious reference points. That Habichuela, in Hands' extensive liner notes, suggests that "he [Holland] is now a Gypsy and I, am almost an Englishman," speaks to a project years in the making, with two artists intent on finding new, common ground. Nowhere is this more apparent than on "El Ritmo Me Lleva," where Holland's effortless sense of swing transforms Habichuela's rumba into a transcendent centerpiece that simply couldn't sound this way were anyone but Holland in the engine room. Any music, it turns out, can swing; and with Hands, Holland and Habichuela have created a living tribute to the limitless potential of mutual respect and admiration.

Track Listing: Hands; Subi La Cuesta; Camaron; The Whirling Dervish; Yesqueros; El Ritmo Me Lleva; Bailaor; Joyride; Puente Quebrao; My Friend Dave.

Personnel: Pepe Habichuela: guitar; Dave Holland: bass; Josemi Carmona: guitar; Carlos Carmona: guitar; Israel "Pirana" Porrina: cajón, palmas, percussion; Juan Carmona: cajón, palmas, percussion.

Title: Hands | Year Released: 2010 | Record Label: Dare2 Records

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