One Hell of an Achievement
ITEM. This is another great disc from Dave Holland’s big band, which contains some of the best contemporary jazz musicians on Earth, including drummer Billy Kilson, trombonists Josh Roseman and Robin Eubanks, trumpet players Duane Eubanks and, sax players Chris Potter and Antonio Hart, vibe master Steve Nelson, and Holland on bass.
ITEM. There are seven pieces here, on a CD totaling out at almost 79 minutes. The shortest is 7:13, the longest beats that by more than 10 minutes.
ITEM. The first four are grouped together into “The Monterey Suite”, which could be an album all by itself. There does not appear, to my non-jazz-expert ears, to be any special thematic or musical reason that they need to be grouped together.
ITEM. This is about as far from free jazz as anyone is going to get. All the pieces are pretty carefully controlled by Holland, who writes all but one of them. They’re not exactly through-composed, but they are all kind of composition-y; they all go through several tricksy permutations, perfectly, precisely. The only real exception is “Happy Jammy”, the funky fourth movement of “The Monterey Suite”, and even then it’s only at the beginning—after that, there is a long counterpointed interplay that has nothing whatsoever to do with freedom. Which is fine! One doesn’t exactly approach a big band album for wild wacky flights of fancy. But be prepared: this is a DAVE HOLLAND album, and it is tight and sounds correct and on-point, but there is not really much time for anyone else’s individual voice, except of course on the solos.
ITEM. The solos are hot. Depending on the soloist, they are ice-hot (Chris Potter, whenever he pops up), cool-hot (Alex Sipiagin on trumpet channeling mid-period Miles Davis for the first part of the lovely ballad “A Time Remembered”, which then yields to Gary Smulyan’s swinging burner on baritone sax), red-hot (Holland’s extended solo intro to “Bring It On”, lazy-hot (Jonathan Arons and Mark Gross, on trombone and alto respectively, on “Ario”), sloppy hot (Roseman, the funniest man in jazz, on “Last Minute Man) sickeningly hot (Billy Kilson’s hilariously transcendent solo at the end of “Free for All”, which will make all the other drummers in the world lose what is left of their minds).
ITEM. Robin Eubanks writes the only non-Holland piece, “Mental Images”, and it is pretty stunning. Here, the iron fist is wrapped in a velvet glove; there is more than a hint of New Orleans brass-band looseness in the backing voices, and solos seem to emerge rather than being launched. Someone needs to make sure this great trombone player and composer gets the attention he deserves—maybe he and his brother should strike out on their own.
ITEM. This record might be a little too effective at achieving its own goals of precision and beauty to really set the world on fire. I have no idea what that means, really; it makes no sense to accuse a record of being too good for its own good. But I’ve said it, and I stick with it. I guess it all comes down to this: it’s all so tightly controlled that it doesn’t seem like jazz. There is no sense of danger, no boundary-testing, no “oh man they’re really out there on the edge”. (Actually, I think it was recorded in 2002, at the same sessions as What Goes Around.) It’s all very charming and lovely, but one doesn’t get the sense that we’re hearing the cutting edge of modern music.
ITEM. This doesn’t mean that it’s not one hell of an achievement.