Bassist Dave Holland began his musical life in his native England, but when he was just in his early twenties, Miles Davis asked him to join his quintet. He played with Davis on some of the pioneering recordings of the movement that attempted to fuse modern jazz with the electronic sound textures and hard rhythms of rock, something Holland would revisit when he worked briefly with Jimi Hendrix.
After leaving Davis he collaborated with another Davis alumnus, pianist Chick Corea, in a cooperative group named Circle, which also included multi-instrumentalist Anthony Braxton. To this day Braxton continues his experimental musical quests, always looking for new modes of expression. As a member of Braxton’s quartet, Holland has toured all over the globe.
Braxton played on Holland’s first recording under his own name, The Conference of the Birds, in the early 1970s. One of the best swinging documents of the new jazz music, it is one of my favorite recordings of the period and one that I go back to again and again. Eventually, Holland became a freelancer, working and recording with a wide range of musicians from all styles of music.
Holland formed his first quintet in 1983, and since then he has been busy leading his own groups as well as collaborating with others, constantly searching for new vistas, including most recently a recording of flamenco music. His current quintet has stayed together, with only one personnel change, since the 1990s. At times Holland would expand it to an octet, and twelve years ago he further magnified it to create his thirteen-piece big band. In view of his musical trajectory, this was a perfectly logical move, but it was somewhat unusual because few bass players have ever led jazz big bands. Charles Mingus brought together large groups for concerts and recordings, but the only bass-playing leaders that come to mind are Chubby Jackson and Oscar Pettiford, and their bands lasted no more than two years. Holland’s thirteen-piece group has been together off and on for more than a decade.
The Holland band is a swinging affair. The arrangements are loose and are designed as frameworks for extended improvisation, and, since it is built around his piano-less quintet, it often reverts to a combo-like lightness, which can be pierced by exciting orchestrated riffs that accompany and drive soloists. The use of Steve Nelson’s vibraphone in lieu of a piano lends the whole band a unique timbre; the instrument sometimes comps in place of its larger cousin but also sometimes functions as a separate section, playing against the brass and reeds. But the success of the orchestra derives from the soloists, many of whom have played with Holland for years. The Dave Holland Big Band performs at the Michigan Theater on November 17.