Dave Holland shares everything: wisdom, solos, credit. He's generous that way. It might be the secret to his success as a post-bop, avant-garde, fusion and post-fusion mainstay, or just the basic organizing principle of the 61-year-old bassist and bandleader's new album, Pass it On.
Sorry, not his new album. The group is called the Dave Holland Sextet, and also includes drummer Eric Harland, pianist Mulgrew Miller, trombonist Robin Eubanks, trumpeter Alex Sipiagin and alto saxophonist Antonio Hart. It's Holland's band, but, at the same time, it's everyone's. Yours, even, if you make it to one of his upcoming shows at Yoshi's. The first general observation to be made about the mathematically riffy and raucously precise music on Pass it On is that it doesn't sound too obviously like a bass player's vanity project. The second is that it does sound like you'd be a fool for missing a chance to hear it live.
The music isn't entirely new, either. Holland has recorded two thirds of the compositions on Pass it On before. But, being keen on the dissemination of musical sagacity, to which the CD's title alludes, he thought it'd be fun and illuminating to rearrange the tunes for these players.
"It always starts with the individuals themselves," Holland says on the phone from his home in upstate New York. "That's sort of where the idea for the project usually comes from -- thinking about a group of players I'd like to play with and who I think would work together playing a particular body of music. I'm not thinking about it being a bass player's album, or music that features a bass player. I'm really looking at it as a group concept -- but also of course with strong individuals."
Holland's musical Kevin Baconism began officially in 1968, when he had the good fortune of being imported from England by Miles Davis. "I like that Miles used to call it a social music," Holland says, "and I think jazz is very much a social music." No shit: Among the many notables with whom Holland has shared stages and studios are Thelonious Monk, Roy Haynes, John McLaughlin, Chick Corea, Joe Henderson, Anthony Braxton, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Hank Jones, John Scofield, Joe Lovano, Al Foster, Jack DeJohnette, Betty Carter, Stan Getz and Sam Rivers.
In addition to Holland's sextet, he's also led a quintet, an octet, a big band, a duo, and -- although it seems to come less naturally -- his own solo act.
"At times we've done a cooperative group, for instance, with two or three other musicians," he says. "And you find it's being promoted with one person's name out front." He sounds aghast at the memory of it. "There are times when those things happen and there's nothing you can do about it."
In fact, Holland is so habitually deferential to fellow musicians that he once needed a talking-to about it from his friend, the late, great jazz godmother Betty Carter. "She said, 'Yeah of course it's about the group, but the people coming to see the show are coming because your name's out front. And you have to accept that as a fact. And if you accept that, then you can move forward.'"
He quibbles -- politely, of course. "I agree with that to a certain point, but I think that obviously in the case of this sextet, all of the musicians have already got great careers behind them. I feel very fortunate to be playing with them, and I try to keep a level head about things. To acknowledge how much there still is to learn and how much the music depends on all the other musicians involved."
Or, as Eubanks once put it: "As a leader, Dave approaches the band as something you wind up and let go."
So it seems with Pass it On's perhaps infinitely re-combinable contrapuntal filigree and invigorating vamps. Holland's modesty isn't false; he has a point when he says, "This music's just not possible without players like these." Not least himself.
The Dave Holland Sextet plays September 24-25, 2008 at Yoshi's in San Francisco, and September 26-28, 2008 at Yoshi's in Oakland. For tickets and information, visit yoshis.com.