Point Counterpoint

Dave Holland Enlarges His Horizon

The title track, "What Goes Around," is the album's most ambitious work. I don't know which came first: the small or big band version. The former, heard on Not for Nothin', was recorded after the big band debuted at the 2000 Montreal Jazz Festival, and only four months before the big band recording, so this is by no means a clear example of orchestral expansion. Yet the current arrangement is so formidable in design and execution that the other sounds like a clever reduction, working with the same material but lacking the conviction of size. Holland begins with a provocative bass ostinato, backed by a sprinkling of vibes, on which a mildly sultry brass theme intrudes; the saxophones counter with a stirring, expansively voiced figure that suggests post-war Ellington, as Nelson plies four-mallet chords; a joyous cascading multiplicity of instruments builds, as if each man were peeling away from the ensemble until the whole band is soloing, nurtured by Holland and driven by Kilson. The orchestra waxes and wanes, before Potter embarks on one of his best tenor solos, a broad, gruff, pulsing flight energized with short figures and a Rollins-like sonority (and a Rollins phrase, too), until those '40s riffs rack up another ensemble interlude, setting up Eubanks, pushed relentlessly by Kilson, who in turn unleashes his own firestorm—in all, 17 minutes and every one earned.

Mingus's mighty influence is more vigorously felt, in timbre and attack, on Holland's 1993 solo "Blues for C.M." (Ones All, Intuition) than on the 1987 quintet version (The Razor's Edge, ECM), but in both of those versions, the piece seemed little more than an attractive blues doubling as ingenious homage, suggesting Mingus's style (plangent sound, strumming) and melodic universe—especially in the ninth bar. The big band gives the piece new life, paying its respects by building on Mingus's precepts rather than mimicking them; the highlight is Nelson's spellbinding solo, played fast with a chilled-gin sound, letting the phrases breathe and breezing over the reeds. When the quintet played "The Razor's Edge" in 1987 and "Shadow Dance" in 1983 (Jumpin' In, ECM), it had the unison thrust of a big band, but the new versions virtually define the difference between augmenting parts and completely reconsidering a work. Paradoxically, the new "Razor's Edge," with its unison thrusting theme, can easily be imagined in a small-band reduction, yet the brighter tempo and total deployment of instruments transform a reticent work into an aggressive one.

Although several pieces are motored by a Holland ostinato—notably the first track, "Triple Dance," which begins deceptively bare with bass, vibes, drums, and Smulyan's adroit baritone—the leader never features himself until the closer, "Shadow Dance," which is radically remade, and masterly from top to bottom. He ignites it with a dramatic, carefully paced Mingusian solo of a sort that few other bassists are likely to try or bring off. Hart takes up the baton on flute, and after a while the band announces itself with modestly punching chords, no more than that, and it's like suddenly seeing the horizon filled up with cavalry. It's only a matter of time before they charge down the hillside. What Goes Around was recorded in January 2001, and a second volume is already scheduled. On the evidence of new music heard at the Birdland gig—including the impressionistic ballad, "A Rio" (impressive Mark Gross), and the contrapuntal fanfares and astonishing Holland display of "Happy Jammy" (the last movement from his "Monterey Suite")—this looks like the start of something big.

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