Amid endless choices, the sound of a Dave Holland bass line compels attention. A master of tone and rhythm, the bassist, composer, and bandleader is now in his fifth decade as a performer and his music possesses a rich and kaleidoscopic history. One of Holland's mentors, the affably sage-like saxophonist Sam Rivers, gave him a tip once. "Sam said, ‘Don't leave anything out?"play all of it,' " Holland once told a radio interviewer. "That's become almost a mantra for me over the years," he says, "as I've tried to find a way to build a vehicle which lets me utilize the full spectrum which includes the tradition, playing the blues and improvising freely. I love all that music, and there's been a desire to reconcile all those areas, to make them relevant, hopefully, in a contemporary context, as one music."
Holland is not the only accomplished bassist in music, an instrument rich in authoritative figures like Charles Mingus and Scott LaFaro. But he's the only Dave Holland, and the vivid personal imprint he brings to the music performs stamps it with a sound that transcends any arbitrary descriptions of genre or format. He is a seminal figure in post-1960s jazz, but has never allowed his work to be limited by tradition.
This path has led him from the frontiers of free improvisation to his modern ensembles that fully embody Rivers' philosophy of "playing all of it."
Born in 1946, the Wolverhampton, England, native was a steady figure on the London jazz scene when Miles Davis saw him at the fabled Soho jazz club Ronnie Scott's in1968, playing in a combo that opened for the Bill Evans Trio. "Miles heard something in his sound and his ideas," recalled Jack DeJohnette, who was Evans's drummer on the date. A month later, Holland was on the bandstand with Davis at Count Basie's Harlem nightclub. He then joined the rhythm section on Filles de Kilimanjaro, and the revolutionary In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew sessions. It was a heady two years, but Holland was quickly developing his own ideas about music.
He recalls that one of his earliest and hardest lessons was how to make his own space in Davis' music, which at the time was electronically evolving. "When I first joined Miles' band, he didn't say much to me. I now know that to be one of his great gifts to artists: to encourage us to not play like the guys who came before us, but to explore our own creative solutions. At the time I remember reading a quote from the Sufi tradition that said, 'Plant your banner firmly in the desert sand.' That resonated with me. I knew I had to figure out what I could bring to the table to represent how I heard and felt the music."