Bath International Music Festival 2009
It’s one of the great stories of British jazz lore: how a young bassist from Wolverhampton found himself hired by Miles Davis just in time to play his part in the groundbreaking era that produced the monumental albums In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew. Dave Holland was that bass player, at twenty-one just four years into a career in London that had already seen him working with such differing musical heroes as Thelonious Monk and Roy Orbison, and in the right place at the right time - onstage at Ronnie Scott’s in the summer of 1968 - for Miles to hear him and pass on an invitation to New York through another jazz legend, drummer Philly Joe Jones.
Within the month, Holland was in Miles’ rhythm section, playing alongside Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Joe Zawinul, Chick Corea, John McLaughlin and Tony Williams. Within a year or two, along with those colleagues, Holland was established among jazz’s front rank, a recognised master of his instrument who has gone on to make and continues making a major contribution to some of the most creative music of our age.
Holland’s greatest asset as a musician and composer, a rounded quality that has been a feature of his quintet since its first incarnation in the early 1980s, stems from his openness to music in many forms. His first gigs, in his early teens, were playing pop and rock’n’roll around Birmingham on bass guitar, an instrument he returned to recently on a tour with Herbie Hancock. He started listening to jazz at the age of fifteen, bought a double bass and began practising hard to try and emulate his early heroes, Ray Brown and Leroy Vinegar.
Classical studies at the Guildhall in London advanced his technique and gave him access to the jazz scene in its widest sense. As a jobbing bassist, he played Trad and mainstream, worked in film music and orchestras, backed visiting Americans at Ronnie Scott’s and investigated free improvisation with the Spontaneous Music Ensemble.
Post-Miles, his adventures continued, recording with John McLaughlin and John Surman, forming Circle with Chick Corea, Anthony Braxton and Barry Altschul and Gateway with John Abercrombie and Jack DeJohnette, working with Kenny Wheeler, Bill Frisell, Lee Konitz and Michael Brecker and taking in projects as diverse as Herbie Hancock’s Joni Mitchell tribute and Tunisian oud player Anouar Brahem’s series of albums for ECM.
Having recorded under his own names since the 1970s, it was with his quintet and later his acclaimed big band that Holland really found his voice as a composer. Blending elegance with muscularity and a sureness of touch with a sense of enquiry, the quintet has consistently produced vibrant, absorbing music. This is thanks in part to a continuity of personnel – the core of Holland, trombonist Robin Eubanks, vibist Steve Nelson and saxophonist Chris Potter has been together since the 1999 album, Prime Directive – but is also due to Holland’s willingness to let his musicians’ personalities shine through while giving sure but subtle leadership: the mark of a true jazz master.