Bassist Dave Holland, an ECM musician from the very beginning of the label's history earliest appearances being with the Chick Corea Trio, Circle, Derek Bailey, Barre Phillips and the classic quartet of Conference of the Birds has been on a roll lately, receiving both critical and popular acclaim for his work with the revamped Gateway trio (Abercrombie/Holland/ DeJohnette), Kenny Wheeler's poll-topping Angel Song project, and his own Dream Of The Elders.
In the summer of 1997 Holland toured extensively in Europe with a new quintet, preparing the material for Points of View, recorded in late September in New York's Avatar Studios. Only vibes/marimba man Steve Nelson is retained from the Dream of the Elders band. Trombonist Robin Eubanks, veteran of an earlier Holland Quintet (refer to 1987 recording The Razor's Edge) returns to the fold. Saxophonist Steve Wilson and drummer Billy Kilson make their ECM debuts with Points of View. The group, playing primarily Holland's tunes, but also material by Nelson, Wilson, and Eubanks, is comprehensive in its reach. This is intelligent modern jazz with firm roots in the tradition. "One of the things that's happening to me as I get older, " says Holland, now 51, "is that I'm thinking more and more about using the totality of my experience as a player. Something Sam Rivers said a long time ago has stayed with me: 'Don't leave anything out, use it all.' That's become almost a mantra for me over the years as I've tried to find a way to build a vehicle which lets me utilize the full spectrum which includes the tradition, which includes playing the blues, which includes improvising freely. I love all that music, and there's been a desire to reconcile all those areas, to make them relevant, hopefully, in a contemporary context, as one music."
This is a lot of strands to draw together. After all, a partial list of the musicians Holland has played with includes Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Stan Getz, Anthony Braxton, Sam Rivers, Evan Parker, John Surman, John McLaughlin, Paul Bley, Lee Konitz, Ben Webster, Coleman Hawkins, Betty Carter, Herbie Hancock, Pat Metheny, Joe Henderson, Carla Bley, Tomasz Stanko, Michael Brecker, Collin Walcott, George Adams, Hank Jones, Charles Lloyd...a veritable cornucopia of aesthetic viewpoints.
Dave Holland characterizes vibist Steve Nelson as "a very central part of the new music I'm trying to make." The bassist first worked with him on a 1989 recording session with drummer Tony Reedus and saxophonist Gary Thomas. "He's a special player who can produce many sounds out of his instrument. Using different techniques, different ways of striking it he can create almost a balafon sound, a marimba sound on the vibraphone sometimes, all kinds of nuances. Plus, he's always thinking about the total context of the music and how best to complement it. He has the kind of quality Duke Ellington had in his comping, in that he can wait a long time for the right moment and then play just one chord with perhaps two or three notes in it, but it'll be the perfect moment to create a dramatic entrance. It's a quality I value a lot because the chordal instrument function in the music I'm writing now is important but shouldn't dominate. I'm interested in keeping texture and harmony quite open, even though we're using, in most cases, closed form composition."
Steve Wilson had previously worked with Steve Nelson on several recordings for the Criss Cross label, but Holland encountered the saxophonist in another context, on a session for pianist Billy Childs' album, The Child Within. "I had a chance to hear what a beautiful sound he had and also to see how he dealt with some very challenging material." Wilson's other credits include sessions with Michele Rosewoman, Billy Drummond and the Joe Henderson Big Band.
In between leaving and rejoining Holland's ensemble, trombonist Robin Eubanks has fronted his own band and co-led another with Steve Turre and has continued to be in very high demand as a sideman, working with the Mingus Big Band, McCoy Tyner, B.B. King, Freddie Hubbard, Hank Roberts, Bobby Previte, Greg Osby, Cassandra Wilson and many others. His resumé includes gigs with everybody from Sun Ra to Stevie Wonder, via Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers and Slide Hampton, and recordings with the Rolling Stones, Talking Heads, Barbra Streisand, and Grover Washington.
Dave Holland first played with drummer Billy Kilson nine years ago in Boston. Since then Kilson has worked with Ahmad Jamal and Bob James and played many sessions. He occasionally substituted for Gene Jackson in the Dream of the Elders band, the players always appreciative of "the hunger and conviction" he brought to the music. His playing is marked by a fastidious attention to detail. Holland: "He provides a different setting for each soloist. You hear him trying different grooves all the time, and he's very provocative, too. Not only that, during the recording, he continually retuned his kit during the session to find the tone and timbre he was looking for in each song. That's dealing with some very fine nuances. And you can really hear it on the record. The way the tom-toms sound different from one track to the next wasn't achieved in the mix, that's Billy's tuning and his responsiveness to the music. I really think he is one of the most outstanding young drummers we have today."
Points of View opens with a very buoyant composition by the leader, positive in spirit and a worthy successor to such upbeat Holland songs as "Homecoming" or "Backwoods Song" or "You I Love". Dave describes "The Balance as "a dance tune. I think of dance as an important element in this music, and though this composition has a slightly complex rhythmic structure, it's a five-beat cycle, it retains that danceability." The piece also explores what is already identifiable as a signature sound of the new quintet, the combination of high-register trombone "Robin has the ability to produce almost a french horn sound" together with the unusually pure tone Steve Wilson finds on the soprano. "The first time I heard this blend I was struck by its uniqueness," says Holland, "so I've made a point of consciously integrating it."
"Mr B" tips the hat to one of Dave's earliest influences on acoustic bass, the mighty Ray Brown, pivot of countless sessions with Count Basie, Charlie Parker, Oscar Peterson, Ella Fitzgerald, Ben Webster, Milt Jackson and many more, and leader of his own deeply swinging groups. "I was completely awed and overwhelmed by Ray when I first heard him, and he still has that effect on me. He seems able, always, to communicate a sense of joy. There's a blues feel to the piece, too although it's not a blues which also connects to Ray, who always has the blues somewhere in there as a reference. He's one of the great, great players and one of the people who represents a standard to aim for, in terms of the quality of the bass playing."
"The Bedouin Trail" was written, originally, for the forthcoming trio album with Anouar Brahem, John Surman and Dave, Thimar (scheduled for May 1998 release): "I'd originally written it with John Surman's bass clarinet in mind but it didn't get used and, in retrospect, I'm quite glad about that. Because when I tried it with the quintet, I realised that it is a perfect vehicle for the trombone. It sits in a range that's ideal, a great singing range for Robin. The Arabian element is implied in the melody; when I wrote the piece I was trying to evoke a quality of restlessness I associate with the Bedouins, the nomadic wandering of the tribes, and finally the rhythm of the camels as this stately procession moves over the desert."
"Metamorphos" is from Robin Eubanks's pen. "After three of my tunes in a row, I was about ready to hear somebody else's compositional voice on the record. Robin has for some time been working in areas that are quite close to my own interests. He works a lot with rhythm structures and plays with the illusion of time, but he does it in his own unique way. 'Metamorphos' contains some funk elements but there's a lot more going on as well: some nice tempo shifts, for example, and with the saxophone solo it moves into more of a 12/8 rhythm. It's a very narrative piece to me, and it evolves in many ways."
"Ario" can be decoded as "à Rio" and is a musical recollection of a lightning trip to Brazil that Holland made at the end of 1996 with Herbie Hancock's group. It was Dave's first visit to the country, and he made fullest use of a free day in Rio at the tour's end: "My wife and I started the morning with a visit to the rainforest. Then we followed that by checking out the botanical gardens, which is a favourite place for us, wherever we are. It's a good way to get a feeling for a country, getting to see what grows there. And in the afternoon Herbie had an interview on a yacht which he'd accepted on condition that everybody came. So there we were sailing round Rio harbour on a beautiful old 60 foot yacht, all brass and wood, looking at the Sugar Loaf Mountain from the sea." The following afternoon Dave sat at his piano back home in New York, "just to see what would happen. And I wrote this tune almost completely. It came out very fast, and after I'd finished I realised that it was a summary of the impressions I'd absorbed in Brazil."
The association with Herbie Hancock is celebrated more directly in "Herbaceous". "I played briefly with Herbie when I joined Miles Davis in 1968 but he was just leaving the band as I was joining, so there wasn't too much opportunity to get to know him well. But since 1990, and particularly in the last three years, we've worked together a lot, and it's been a very inspiring connection. Herbie's a true improvisor: he has the ability to play a song like 'Dolphin Dance', say, which he's been playing for 35 years, without ever falling back on a formula. He finds new variations, new ways to play, every night. So this song for Herbie has a certain mobility I associate with him. There's something in the way the piece moves that reminds me of his approach to standard material. Always reworking, reworking. The tune itself has quite a classical structure it's an AABA form but the way the resolutions work in the harmony bring about some rhythmic displacements. There are asymmetric bar lengths in the bridge. It's all 4/4 but there are some three-bar phrases; this is a favourite device I like to use."
Holland is particularly fond of Steve Wilson's tune "The Benevolent One": "It's very 'orchestral' and offers a nice contrast, in terms of textures, to the rest of the material on the album. The counterlines for trombone are particularly interesting. It's a challenging piece to play, with a lot of high register work for Robin, and extreme control is needed. A fine ballad."
Steve Nelson, on marimba, Holland, and drummer Billy Kilson close Points of View with a trio reading of Nelson's gently lulling "Serenade": "This piece was a surprise to me," Holland says. "Because Steve is a very intelligent and thoughtful player I was expecting him, in my perhaps narrow way of thinking, to bring in something interesting and maybe complex, but what he came up with is this beautiful melody. It's very simple but at the same time deep. I think it's a very nice way to leave the album. Listening to the album as a whole it left me with a reflective feeling, thinking about everything that had happened on the way."