Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Passing It On To A New Band

Dave Holland's latest, "Pass it On," features his latest band, a sextet that is both the same and different from all of his other bands in much the way that they are both the same and different from eachother. Let me clarify; this new band has the same tendency as all of Holland's classic bands (his latest long-running Nelson-Eubanks-Potter Quintet, or, say, the Steve Coleman-Marvin Smitty Smith groups of the 80s) to work with noir-ish chord progressions (most of the compositions here were recorded by earlier Holland bands) and incredibly intricate time signatures. It is different in that the personalities involved here are very different from those of earlier bands.

The only real newcomers to Holland's band are pianist Mulgrew Miller and drummer Eric Harland, as all of the others have appeared with some version of Holland's group in the past; trumpeter Alex Sipiagin and alto saxophonist Antonio Hart were featured on Holland's two big band albums, and Robin Eubanks has been a collaborator with Holland for almost two decades. The tunes are great, and the band's interplay is tasteful if a bit safe. In fact, that's the only problem with this album; it seems a little bit too safe for Holland. There are none of the five minute rhythm section-less dual solos of his Quintet that made Chris Potter and Robin Eubanks household names in the jazz world ten or so years ago, and while Eric Harland is a brilliant drummer and has shown himself to be one of the great young musicians elsewhere, his playing here isn't as dynamic as Billy Kilson's or Marvin Smitty Smith's.

Of course, those gripes are almost meaningless when you take into consideration that this band has only been together for a short time and will hopefully grow into their sound as a unit in the future; it took years for Holland's classic quintet to come together in the form it was in for a decade, and years more to evolve into the jazz combo of the 00's. The sextet format gives Holland a chance to explore more colors in his noirish, rhythmically propulsive vein, even though this band lacks the chaotic feel of some of his earlier bands, and lacks the crispness of his big band. The soloists all sound great, and the highlight of the record is Sipiagin's blazing display of both technique and emotion on this groups version of "Processional." Definitely worth a listen for Holland fans, although his sextet's next album will probably showcase a quantum leap in terms of band interplay.

Next time I'll have my monthly edition of "Tearing the New Downbeat Apart Limb by Limb," and you can expect hours of entertainment judging by the fact that opening section features an inquiry about "which jazz musician would make the best president," (Donny McCaslin doesn't think it should be who you think he thinks it should be) and two (TWO! WTF) five star reviews, one of which was actually written by a teacher of mine. So check back in a couple days.

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