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."