Dave Holland Octet Pathways

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Dave Holland Octet

Pathways

Dare 2 Records DR2-004

If you’re like me you don’t buy or listen to Dave Holland’s albums for the writing or his bass solos (which to me all say the same thing and go on too long).  It’s not that I think his writing or soloing are poor, they just doesn’t do much for me, just as Wayne Shorter’s compositions don’t turn me on.  That being said, I generally devour Holland’s records for the incredible soloists in his band.  Whether you like Holland’s writing and playing, or just the soloists, or both, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of his octet’s latest disc Pathways, which is taken from the band’s run at Birdland from January 7-11, 2009.  And unlike some live records the sound, mixing and engineering are all top notch, resulting in a great sounding album.

To me Holland’s compositions and arrangements often run together due to several factors: the reliance on the same grooves that imply the time more than explicitly stating it, the thick textures and voicing, and generally the same tempi and mood.  I don’t think I need to go into much detail about what the record sounds like, because it sounds like a Dave Holland record.  Nuff said.  But give him credit, he has a personal approach, sound and aesthetic that works great for him. 

There is not a solo on Pathways that isn’t smoking hot.  The band must have been killing it all week.  Chris Potter and Antonio Hart are both favorites of mine, and they especially bring it on the album’s final cut “Shadow Dance,” which happens to close Holland’s 2002 big band record What Goes Around as well.  Hart, who has a big, soulful, bluesy sound that occasionally growls, opens up the soloing.  The track has a steady, forward moving tempo, and by laying back and blowing relaxed and bluesy lines Hart is able to create a tension between himself and the rhythm section that draws you in.  Potter is all over his horn here, taking angular lines and developing them motivically, slowly becoming busier, faster, higher, occasionally adding a short, restrained scream.

To me one of the ways Gary Smulyan can be thought of  as the bari sax version of LeBron James.  Smulyan has an enormous, beefy sound and incredible agility on the large horn.  If you saw LeBron in street clothes that covered his muscular physique and didn’t recognize him, perhaps you’d think that a person that large could never move fast.  It’s just as surprising how fast Smulyan is on the bari, and instrument that can be very hard to get moving (trust me, I’m a bari player).  But when you see LeBron in action, just like Smulyan, you are dazzled by a sheer athletic virtuosic display of speed, quickness, agility, creativity, power and grace.  Smulyan hits you with such a performance right out of the gate on the disc’s opener “Pathways.”

If you couldn’t tell by this review I’m a bit saxophone biased, but that doesn’t mean that trumpeter Alex Sipiagin and trombonist Robin Eubanks aren’t on top of their game throughout either.  I generally don’t care for the trombone as a solo instrument (and no, I can’t tell you why), but Eubanks has an individual approach and sound that always works, especially on “Ebb and Flow.”  Sipiagin is a bad man, as he demonstrates on “Wind Dance,” which features virtuosic blowing that’s informed by Freddie Hubbard and Lee Morgan.  He also shows his lyrical and more subdued side on his flugelhorn solo on “Blue Jean.”

For whatever reason you may like Dave Holland’s albums, Pathways is one that will most certainly satisfy you.  And for those who haven’t checked out Holland and his excellent stable of musicians whose configuration varies album by album, this record would be a great one to check out.

Tracks: Pathways; How’s Never; Sea of Marmara; Ebb and Flow; Blue Jean; Wind Dance; Shadow Dance.

Personnel: Antonio Hart, alto sax and flute; Chris Potter, tenor sax and soprano sax; Gary Smulyan, baritone sax; Alex Sipiagin, trumpet and flugelhorn; Robin Eubanks, trombone; Steve Nelson, vibraphone and marimba; Dave Holland, bass; Nate Smith, drums.

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