‘What Goes Around’ Dave Holland Big Band
Jan-Mikael’s EARS (Evaluation, Analysis, Rating, Summary):
‘What Goes Around’ Dave Holland Big Band
Big band. The term evokes two images for me; the first, the middle-aged, less-than-svelt, tuxedoed menagerie favored by the likes of Mel Torme; the second, the no less respectably dressed but far cooler and incendiary bands of the forties and beyond.
The Dave Holland Big Band is neither of the two extremes. Instead, we have an enlarged ensemble of fine soloists with varying pedigrees, based loosely on Holland’s Quintet, reigned in and sharply focused on delivering Mr Holland’s arresting compositions in as visceral and succinct a manner as possible, worthy of the mantle cast by the giants of yore.
Album opener ‘Triple Dance’ sets the tone for the disc. Harmonically foreshadowing much of the rest of the disc, 3 of the 4 primary solo voices (vibes, sax, trumpet) are introduced quickly, although the ‘solo trinity’ (sax, trumpet, trombone) will be the focal point throughout the remainder of the LP. Gary Smulyan impresses immediately with his facile baritone work, demonstrating a unique voice and approach to soloing that emphasizes note choice over noodling.
‘Blues for C.M’ slows the pace and offers the listener the first of Holland’s own solo sections. Large tone, limber timing, and lush orchestrations are his hallmark, and he doesn’t disappoint. Exact, melodic chromaticism, true glissandos and impeccable placement combine to focus attention away from the bass to the composition- demonstrating a profound benevolence and respect for his band-mates, and still subtly, completely in command of the direction of the improvisation.
The jagged melody of ‘Razors Edge’ fairly jumps out of the speakers, launching a salvo of brass, tightly woven and adventurously harmonized, inciting trumpeter Duane Eubank’s solo over Holland’s muscular bass swells. The rumba–inspired side-stick and trombone solo section is a highlight-in fact, Kilson’s drums are really the focal point, displaying an aggressive and propulsive disregard for straight meter!
The title track’s bass groove, with its cunningly circular 11 meter propels and cajoles… Chris Potter’s trumpet and Robin Eubank’s trombone engage in a brash harmonic tug-of war, spiraling upward into crescendo and abruptly disengaging, leaving the vibes to gather the shrapnel…ebb and flow, and an exciting solo from drummer Billy Kilson render this piece the centerpiece of the disc. Coltrane quotes, blues, Eubank’s fleet trombone solos and the muscular snare-work of Kilson sit and shimmer over the marathon bass-line, and the final crashing chorus is transcendent.
‘Upswing’, brash and authoritative, swaggers and swings a weighty truncheon, as Smulyan’s laconic delivery, Nelson’s understated vibe comping and Holland’s pitch perfect walk combine with Alex Sipiagin’s first solo appearance to taunt the listener with Miles-worthy Phrygian-dominant intent…more like line drawings than sketches…
‘First Snow’ provides dynamic respite, focusing on phrasing and the taut harmonies hinted at earlier. Horns swell and roll, washing conventional resolution away to reveal ingenious modulations and crafty root leading, Andre Hayward and Mark Gross turning in fine performances….did I mention that this is Holland’s album?
Finally, ‘Shadow Dance’. Holland solos in the intro impeccably, demonstrating superb control and most importantly, harmonic intent…avoiding all clichés and preparing the ear for the entrance of the vibes and, finally, the flute of Antonio Hart, mysterioso over the rapid 6/8 groove that develops. When the heavy metal finally arrives, the groove turns menacing, falling into a short double-time section that rabidly swallows the crescendo only to venomously regurgitate it, forcing its bile to smack on the listeners lips…Kilson turns in another fine solo, resplendent in its simplicity, the hive swarms again with ‘harmelodies’ and after a brief series of rhythmically tight ‘tuttis’, it’s all over.
I had to consciously remind myself that this is a bassist’s record, but that this is no mere bassist. The focus is the music, and the arrangements. Virtuosity is omnipresent but under-stated by all, so that the brief solo turns by Holland appear as surprises rather than expectations or worse, as is the case with many solo artist’s efforts, extraneous and self-aggrandizing. Not so here. Holland’s attention to the composition and the abilities of his band is noteworthy, and renders ‘What Goes Around’ a thoroughly satisfying listen.
Not your mama’s big band indeed!