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Why is this man smiling? Not me, but Dave Holland as he took the stage at Ohio State University’s Weigel Hall. Actually me too, after his short bass solo introduction to “The Balance,” the lead track on his 1998 ECM release Points Of View. The bassist, with band in formation, laid down long lines of sound, with each musician alternately soloing and adding textures to the passage. Holland kept his eyes on drummer Billy Kilson for the opener (as did much of the audience) as Kilson acted as the locomotive engine behind the soloists. The drummer sped up and slowed the activity coaxing the soloists to climb the proverbial mountain. Holland as a musician seems to always be a couple of steps ahead of the current musical trends. Playing with Evan Parker and Kenny Wheeler just out of his teens, he was asked to join Miles Davis’ band in 1967. You’ll recall Davis’ In A Silent Way and Bitches Brew weren’t exactly embraced upon their initial release. When Holland and the electric Miles parted, he formed Circle with Chick Corea, Anthony Braxton and Barry Altschul. Whether he plays free jazz or more inside music, the bassist is always moving ahead of his time, be it with Sam Rivers, or Brooklyn’s M-BASE musicians Steve Coleman and Robin Eubanks. Like his mentor Miles Davis, Holland has always set the trend, rather than follow one. Holland’s latest incarnation, his piano-less quintet, released the aforementioned Points Of View and last year’s Prime Directive and the bassist announced his quintet has recently recorded a third, yet untitled, disc to be released next summer. Wise decision to stick with what works. His quintet is founded around exceptional group players and intellectual soloists. Without the structure provided by the piano, it seems the melody and timekeeping are the province of the bassist. Their second selection, a new song “Cause-mosis” kept Holland smiling at Kilson’s drum antics. The animated drummer plays whole-body music, here taking a very Max Roach-like solo. Kilson, a crowd favorite, prefers swapping tones and switching the palates of beats to maintaining a straight cadence. Kilson isn ’t the headliner, but he’s definitely the heart behind this group. Replacing regular Chris Potter was saxophonist Antonio Hart. While disappointed not to hear the much-talked about Potter, Antonio Hart filled in nicely. His soprano saxophone playing might not match Potter’s, but on alto he works well. On “Make Believe” and the new track, “What Goes Around,” his blues feel was a perfect foil to the bands long lines and Kilson’s relentless attack.
The new writing by the quintet like “What Goes Around,” perhaps the best song of the show, has Kilson messing with the time and energy of the music. Vibraphonist Steve Nelson plays what could be a Philip Glass repetitive line as trombonist Robin Eubanks takes an overtly muscular solo, emphasis on skittering power, with Hart blowing funk/blues figures. Holland holds the melody as Kilson once again steals the show with a furious solo.
Steve Nelson’s chamber jazz (drummer-less) piece “Candlelight Vigil” followed, with Holland bowing an atmospheric backdrop as Eubanks and Hart harmonized the melody. This lovely chamber piece could be the stuff of an entirely new ECM recording. Reminiscent of the thoughtful recent work of Dave Douglas, Holland’s band (sans Kilson) has another attractive direction to pursue.
The night ended with Dave Holland’s extended bass solo to start “Prime Directive.” Yes, this is what I had waited for. His bass work, although de-emphasized in this band is a wonder. Like his 1995 solo recording Ones All (Intuition), I could listen to Holland solo all day. His gift is that of perfect timing and patience. The band joined in for more group gymnastics, before exiting to a loud ovation. They returned to play “Shifting Sands” a new composition taken at mid-tempo. If the reactions of the crowd (and Holland’s apparent joy) are any indication, this will continue as a unit for quite some time to come.
I love jazz because anything is possible; it has few rules and the best jazz breaks those ones. I prefer free improv because it doesn't really have any rules at all.
I was first exposed to jazz in my teens (in the late sixties).
The first jazz record I bought was Filles de Kilimanjaro by Miles Davis, shortly followed by Extrapolation by John McLaughlin.
My advice to new listeners is to listen as widely as possible and not to make snap judgments--stick with it.