Dave Holland Octet
Dare 2 Records DR2-004
For some years I’ve labelled groups led by the great British-born, American-based composing bassist David Holland as the world’s best jazz band. There’s no need to alter this judgment after hearing his newest album, his first employing an octet.
Recorded at New York’s Birdland club, it’s vintage Holland - fierce soloing, crisply-clean ensembles crammed with multi-layered ideas and irresistible momentum on seven long tracks, five penned by the leader.
To his stellar regular quintet (imaginative tenor Chris Potter, pioneering trombonist Robin Eubanks, delicate vibraphonist Steve Nelson and relentless drummer Nate Smith) he’s added more saxes - alto Antonio Hart, baritone Gary Smulyan - and trumpeter Alex Sipiagin. The result is a combo that demonstrates exceptional playing skill and can sound like a roaring big band or an intimate small unit.
The excitement level is established early, with Smulyan’s deep sounds careering through the opening title piece before the leader takes a bounding, tension-filled solo and the mood’s maintained as an older Holland tune, How’s Never, is tackled. Some relief from the up-tempo charge comes on the Holland song Blue Jean with Smulyan and Sipiagin prominent. All the bandsmen solo, though Nelson’s vibes are unfortunately only remotely present except on the wonderful Holland oldie Shadow Dance, but overall the sidemen are never at a loss for stimulating notions.
Holland’s been around, playing with Miles Davis in Bitches Brew days, but soon leading his own teams and trying out solo albums of acoustic bass and cello. He has the knack of generating arresting, thought-provoking music with emotional impact and remains unfailingly interesting. Let’s hope Canadian jazz festivals snatch him up this summer.