Bassist Dave Holland's main creative vehicle has long been the Dave Holland Quintet, but in recent years he's launched a number of other groups, tweaking and expanding instrumentation while preserving something of the quintet's signature sound. On Pathways, recorded live at Birdland in 2009, Holland takes another detour with the Dave Holland Octet, which splits the difference between his quintet and big band in terms of size, texture and orchestrated thrust.
Incidentally, Holland switched from ECM Records to his own Dare2 label in 2005 and the somber green and blue hues of his ECM album art have given way to Dare2's whimsical shapes and bright neons. But the music has remained consistently biting, a stew of stripped-down harmony and off-centered rhythmic attack that is well represented here.
Holland augments his core lineuptrombonist Robin Eubanks, saxophonist Chris Potter, vibraphonist Steve Nelson and drummer Nate Smithwith three additional horns. The first to be prominently featured is baritone saxophonist Gary Smulyan, who handles the main melody and first solo of the lead-off title track and returns on the lush, slow minor blues "Blue Jean." Altoist Antonio Hart channels Maceo Parker on Holland's "How's Never," a limping funk tune from the bassist's mid-'90s Gateway repertoire. Trumpeter Alex Sipiagin contributes "Wind Dance," one of the set's most fulfilling pieces, rich in counterpoint and flute flourishes (via Hart). Potter's "Sea of Marmara," the other non-Holland highlight, weaves in dreamy atmospherics with soprano sax and muted trumpet.
Holland's writing tends to be punchy, vampy and bass line-driven and "Shadow Dance," the big sendoff, is a good specimen. Also figuring into Holland's big band repertoire, the tune has moments that subtly echo Duke Ellington's "Caravan." In a recent blog post, Holland cited the Ellington small groups as a key influence, so the shoe fits.
Pathways; How's Never?; Sea of Marmara; Ebb and Flow; Blue Jean; Wind Dance; Shadow Dance.
Dave Holland: bass; Chris Potter: tenor and soprano saxophones; Robin Eubanks: trombone; Steve Nelson: vibraphone, marimba; Nate Smith: drums; Antonio Hart: alto saxophone, flute; Alex Sipiagin: trumpet, flugelhorn; Gary Smulyan: baritone saxophone.