Bassist Dave Holland is a musician who transcends all categories. Well trained in his native Britain, he came to this country in 1968 when he was hired by Miles Davis, with whom he recorded several classic fusion albums. In the years after leaving Davis he worked with some of the most adventuresome spirits of the times, such as Anthony Braxton and Sam Rivers, as well as with such older musicians as Stan Getz, Thelonious Monk, and singer Betty Carter. In 1972 he recorded his first album as a leader, the magnificent Conference of the Birds, which featured the multiple reed instruments of both Braxton and Rivers. To this day it remains one of my favorite records of the period.
Throughout these years he continued to develop his ringing sound and prodigious finger technique, but although Holland took part in various cooperative groups, it was only in the 1980s that he began to concentrate on leading his own bands. Since then he has led a number of small units, of which his latest quintet is surely the finest. The group currently includes saxophonist Chris Potter, trombonist Robin Eubanks, vibraphone player Steve Nelson, and drummer Billy Kilson. The unique blend of instruments, the original compositions, and the imaginative arrangements designed to exploit the specific sounds of each participant, as well as the intricate and varied rhythmic aspects of the music, have all contributed to the success of this quintet. As good as the four other members of the band are, the leader’s powerful bass playing provides the special flavoring. Holland is a swift and precise player with a very personal tone, strong and clear, and an uncluttered sense of melody in his soloing.
Not content with leading a quintet, Holland added eight more top New York players a few years ago to create a big band. In many ways it is an extension of the smaller group, which remains at the core. The distinct utilization of Nelson’s vibraphone in both contexts provides a strong aural connection, as does the reliance on the saxophone-trombone blend, but the larger organization obviously provides the leader with a broader sound palette and new areas to explore.
In addition to his regulars, Holland can now feature additional soloists, such as baritone saxophonist Gary Smulyan or trumpeters Earl Gardner and Duane Eubanks. The band has just released its first CD, What Goes Around, and apparently will be playing many of the pieces from this disc on its tour. The quintet has been here before, but not the big band. Holland’s Michigan Theater show on Saturday, February 15, provides an opportunity to hear them both side by side.