Dave Holland QuintetThe subject of rhythm recurs when bassist Dave Holland talks about music. Elaborate meters have always sounded natural and unforced in his tunes and his new quintet recording is a modern jazz album that incorporates rhythms inspired by traditional musics of Arabic, African and other cultures. "An ongoing endeavour of mine is to find new rhythms to explore", Holland says. "Rhythm is essential to me: it's one of the fundamental ways with which I communicate as a musician. I've found that regardless of how complicated the harmony of a particular composition gets, if its rhythm can be effectively communicated, then even the most complex elements of the piece can be understood."
Prime Directive follows Holland's Grammy-nominated 1997 recording "Points of View". Since then, saxophonist Chris Potter has replaced Steve Wilson in the quintet, and intense roadwork has boosted the band's energy level and tightened interaction all round. "This time we had the luxury of exploring more of what we could do as a unit before we entered the studio", says Holland, "and the fact that we have a more fully developed group identity meant the music written for 'Prime Directive' could be more tailor-made for the individual band members' personalities."
Of the nine tracks heard here, five are Holland originals. The bassist-composer calls the title track "a jam tune" and likens it to "a group celebration or a party". In the process of putting the quintet together, "…my wife Claire and I were talking about how if the band's not having fun, then there's something wrong. We decided right then and there that this was the prime directive. I told everyone on the tour bus that the group was going to enjoy what it was doing." Months later, drummer Billy Kilson christened a new, outgoing and unnamed Holland tune "Prime Directive".
"Make Believe", was written right before the recording and its 5/4 rhythm structure is one the bassist was introduced to through his association with Tunisian oud virtuoso Anouar Brahem. "Anouar introduced me to this type of rhythm - which alternates two groups of five beats, first 3 & 2 and then 2 & 3 - that exists in Arab music", Holland explains. "The last time I was on tour with him our final concert was in his hometown of Tunis and I was fascinated by a wonderful musician who was performing while we were eating dinner one night. He saw me watching him and mimed the rhythm structure which turned out to be the same one Anouar had showed me. Shortly thereafter I was in China with the quintet and while I was demonstrating the rhythm to Billy I came up with the structure the song starts out with. We'd been to the Forbidden City and other fantastic, almost make believe places and that's what inspired the song's title."
"Jugglers Parade" features another rhythm structure that intrigues Holland, a 9/8 comprised of sections of five and four beats. He remembers that as he started to work with the rhythm he first came up with the bass figure and then began developing the melody, a figure on which Steve Nelson's marimba playing almost sounds like an African thumb piano. "I found myself thinking about our trip to China and the image of a circus parade with acrobats and jugglers crossed my mind", Holland explains. "On one level we're juggling with time while we're playing the piece. But the image of a parade passing by is also a visual analogy for the composition which begins with Billy playing the intro before being joined by Steve, and then me and finally by Chris and Robin. The parade ends eight minutes later with just the marimba and drums again."
"Prime Directive" concludes with "Down Time", a trio performance for trombone, bass and drums. "I'd wanted to write a feature for Robin Eubanks and the opening phrase is something I came up with a couple of years ago and used to play alone on the bass just for the fun of it", Holland recalls. "Robin came up with the idea of playing his horn with the plunger which worked wonderfully. I think of this song as a blues - not a true 12-bar blues, but a piece with a blues flavour."
The quintet's four other members each contributed a composition to the album. "They explore similar musical concepts and territory as far as featuring different rhythmic structures and compositional forms are concerned. The quality of their work reflects the fact that over the course of the time we've spent together, everyone's had a chance to really hear each other and to create compositional settings that reflect their own individual image of what the band can do. Robin writes music that is very programmatic and in which many events evolve and occur. His song 'A Searching Spirit' is very orchestrated and evolves beautifully to explore a Cuban kind of feeling. Chris's piece 'High Wire' is a very swinging tune with an interesting form that resonates with elements that I feel reflect the history of jazz, while Steve's 'Candlelight Vigil' - a tender through-composed piece with very little improvisation - has a beautiful soulfulness and fragility to it that I love very much." At nearly 14 minutes, Kilson's "Wonders Never Cease" is the longest piece on the album and Holland says, the most representative of the Quintet's live approach. "Billy's tune reflects how we play a song in concert with each section creating a different setting. This one begins with me playing solo and, after the introduction, the piece develops into a trio section then advances into a thematic statement by the horns, followed by a vibes solo, then a duet between Chris and Robin and then another section with written material accompanying a drum solo."
Dave Holland was born in Wolverhampton, England, on October 1, 1946. His formidable technique, unerring sense of time, innate feel for harmony and rich, pure tone have earned him a position on the shortlist of bassists summoned when a recording, tour or special project calls for the highest levels of musicality and versatility. A partial list of artists he has played with during the course of his career amounts to a veritable "Who's Who" of modern jazz and 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, Karl Berger, Carla Bley, Tomasz Stanko, Michael Brecker, Collin Walcott, George Adams, Hank Jones and Charles Lloyd, among others.
An ECM artist almost from the very beginning of the label's 30-year existence, Holland's discography includes appearances on recordings with Chick Corea, Circle, Derek Bailey, Barre Phillips, Gateway (the group of which Holland is co-leader, alongside John Abercrombie and Jack DeJohnette), Colin Walcott, Tomasz Stanko, Keith Jarrett and many others. His 1972 recording debut as a leader, the classic "Conference of the Birds" with Rivers, Braxton and Barry Altschul, is widely regarded as a modern jazz classic. ECM releases of recent vintage have included Gateway's "Homecoming" and "In The Moment" trio with John Abercrombie and Jack DeJohnette, and Wheeler's "Angel Song", Charles Lloyd's latest release "Voice In The Night"; and "Thimar" with Brahem and Surman.
Steve Nelson, who doubles on vibes and marimba, is the only member of the quintet who appeared on Holland's 1996 ECM recording "Dream of the Elders". Dave describes him as "a very central part of the new music I'm trying to make". (The two first worked together a decade ago on a 1989 recording session with drummer Tony Reedus and saxophonist Gary Thomas). Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Nelson graduated from Rutgers University with both Masters and Bachelors degrees in music and his teaching activities have included a position at Princeton University. He has performed and/or recorded with Kenny Barron, Bobby Watson, Mulgrew Miller, David Fathead Newman, Johnny Griffin and Jackie McLean, among others, and has also led projects of his own for the Sunnyside and Criss Cross labels.
Saxophonist Chris Potter, recently named as recipient of Denmark's Jazzpar award for the year 2000, makes his ECM debut on "Prime Directive". Potter moved to New York from South Carolina in 1989 to attend the Manhattan School of Music and the New School and joined trumpeter Red Rodney, with whom he played until 1993. He then had a brief tenure with the reunited pop group Steely Dan and has since been involved in a wide range of projects including work with the Mingus Big Band and Paul Motian's Electric Be-Bop Band. In addition to recording 6 CD's as a leader, Potter has played in Trio 2000 with Motian and Steve Swallow, appeared on Swallow's WATT recording "Deconstructed" and been a member of groups led by Jim Hall, Billy Hart, Dave Douglas, Al Foster, John Patitucci and Mike Manieri, among others.
Versatile trombonist Robin Eubanks has amassed a broad list of credits in a résumé that 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. A veteran of an earlier Holland Quintet featured on the 1987 ECM recording "The Razor's Edge", Eubanks leads his own band, Mental Images, and co-led another with fellow trombonst Steve Turre in between leaving and rejoining Holland. Much in demand as a sideman, Eubanks has performed with Elvin Jones, the Mingus Big Band, McCoy Tyner, B.B. King, Freddie Hubbard, Hank Roberts, Bobby Previte, Greg Osby, Cassandra Wilson and many others.
Billy Kilson studied at the Berklee College of Music and with Alan Dawson, and has appeared on a wide variety of recordings by artists ranging from Bob James, Dianne Reeves and Terence Blanchard to Greg Osby, Tim Hagens and Billy Childs. Kilson also played on the soundtrack for the Spike Lee film Malcolm X and has performed in concert with Ahmad Jamal, Walter Davis Jr., Mark Whitfield, Cassandra Wilson, Al Jarreau and Donald Byrd, among many others.
The Dave Holland Quintet will perform music from "Prime Directive" in the course of an extensive tour through Europe in October and November. Beginning in France, it takes in concerts in Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Austria, Ireland, Portugal, Denmark, Sweden and England, and includes an appearance at "Selected Signs", ECM's 30th Anniversary Festival in Brighton.