Holland formed his first quintet in 1983, and since then he has been busy leading his own groups as well as collaborating with others, constantly searching for new vistas, including most recently a recording of flamenco music. His current quintet has stayed together, with only one personnel change, since the 1990s. At times Holland would expand it to an octet, and twelve years ago he further magnified it to create his thirteen-piece big band. In view of his musical trajectory, this was a perfectly logical move, but it was somewhat unusual because few bass players have ever led jazz big bands. Charles Mingus brought together large groups for concerts and recordings, but the only bass-playing leaders that come to mind are Chubby Jackson and Oscar Pettiford, and their bands lasted no more than two years. Holland's thirteen-piece group has been together off and on for more than a decade.
The Holland band is a swinging affair. The arrangements are loose and are designed as frameworks for extended improvisation, and, since it is built around his piano-less quintet, it often reverts to a combo-like lightness, which can be pierced by exciting orchestrated riffs that accompany and drive soloists. The use of Steve Nelson's vibraphone in lieu of a piano lends the whole band a unique timbre; the instrument sometimes comps in place of its larger cousin but also sometimes functions as a separate section, playing against the brass and reeds. But the success of the orchestra derives from the soloists, many of whom have played with Holland for years. The Dave Holland Big Band performs at the Michigan Theater on November 17.
[Originally published in November, 2012.]