Rifftides Washington, DC correspondent John Birchard heard Dave Holland’s new band the other night and filed this report.
Terrace Theater, John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Washington, D.C.
February 9, 2007.
Dave Holland, bass; Robin Eubanks, trombone; Antonio Hart, alto saxophone; Alex Sipiagin, trumpet & fluegelhorn; Mulgrew Miller, piano; Eric Harland, drums.
Dave Holland made his third visit to the Kennedy Center, leading a band he described as “a relatively new project.” The British-born bassist is coming off a banner year, having been named Bassist of the Year for 2006 by readers of Down Beat, his quintet named Best Jazz Group and his big band voted Best Big Band. On the evidence of last night’s first set, Holland is not resting on those laurels.
The new band can justifiably be called an all-star group. There are no weak links. The audience that filled the Terrace Theater heard a set of originals by the leader that showcased each musician in arrangements that demonstrated freshness and originality. Holland kicked off the evening with a snappy Latin piece that featured Mulgrew Miller and Robin Eubanks.
A tribute to the late Ray Brown, “Mister B”, followed. A loose-limbed, medium swinger, the tune reminded one of Brown and featured Miller again and altoist Antonio Hart, who is not afraid to allow space as he builds a solo and will mine a phrase, repeating it as if examining it first from one side then another, not just stuffing notes in as a substitute for thought.
An up-tempo “Interception” was next, offering an intense Alex Sipiagin whose chops are impressive and tone on trumpet is bright. His fiery playing put me in mind of my youth when Europeans were considered second-rate jazz players. Those days are long gone, thank God. If any proof were needed, the work by Sipiagin and his leader last night were fine examples. The fast, staccato piece came to a close with Eric Harland’s drum solo, which at times sounded like a machine gun with hiccups.
Holland then introduced another of his originals, one inspired he said by a scene from the old movie Cleopatra, in which Elizabeth Taylor made her stately way down the Nile on a barge. He calls it “Processional” and its exotic minor sound and leisurely pace offered a chance to hear Sipiagin’s mellow fluegelhorn state the melody and gave Antonio Hart another pleasing showcase.
The set concluded all too soon with a tribute to the late drummer Ed Blackwell and his New Orleans background, titled “Pass It On”. Holland, who played a 3/4-sized bass throughout, began the tune with an unaccompanied pizzicato solo that featured soulful double- and triple-stops and gradually morphed into a rhythmic beat that had the audience fairly tasting the gumbo of the Crescent City. Harland slid in underneath Holland and showed the Blackwell beat did not die with its inventor. Robin Eubanks offered a fine, raucous solo full of smears and a burry sound appropriate to the tune and Antonio Hart turned up the temperature even more, leading to Eric Harland’s infectious solo and then out.
Dave Holland’s new band is a worthy successor to his previous quintet. At times, the front line reminded this listener of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and at others of the Art Farmer-Benny Golson Jazztet. But mostly, the sextet bears the stamp of its leader. It is an uncompromising jazz band with a sound that is anchored in the past and looks ahead with intelligence, taste and imagination.