Few jazz performers choose to lead an octet. An eight-piece is an interesting hybrid entity: it approaches the power signature of a big band, but the sound is more fluid and never needs to knock the listener off his chair.
Which is to say, it’s the perfect vehicle for a Dave Holland record.
Holland’s compositions for this date are complex, but approachable. Having a few extra horns is a boon on the new record, called Pathways. The brass section plays in unison with such restraint, it’s actually quite beautiful at many points in the recording. Holland is rightfully tabbed as a progressive player, but that doesn’t necessarily mean atonal or hard on the ears. The tracks included here were recorded in front of a very appreciative live audience.
Blue Jean, for instance, is a little bit bossa underneath and a little bit film noir on top: it’s a lilting arrangement that sounds best when heard ’round about midnight. Gary Smulyan’s bari sax is moody and intimate, and it winds sinuously around the melodic vibes of Steve Nelson. Alex Sipiagin has a nice trumpet solo at the center of the tune.
On Sea of Marmara — following a slowly-growing introduction of the theme — Chris Potter’s soprano twists and dives like a kite on a windy day, soaring over the rest of the octet. The seven other players produce the type of rich and toasty sound one might expect from a fully tricked-out modern jazz orchestra.
Wind Dance is another nice track, though it is once again a different use of the same players. It’s more of a musical conversation than a solo vehicle. Dynamic tension builds throughout, then the tune comes to an abrupt halt.
There are seven tracks on the album. Writing about each of them would deprive the listener of part of the experience of discovering each tune. The fact that a couple were first performed by Holland over two decades ago doesn’t make any difference. In this setting, they’re brand new, which is one of the things that makes jazz so fantastic.
Tune in to WTJU and listen for Pathways, or check in with your favorite announcer and see if he or she can fit in a request. The entire album is well worth a listen.