Jazz, in its rhythmic flow of absorption and expansion, underwent one of its more longer-lasting seismic shifts in the early '50s. Led by Charlie Parker, be-bop seared the sounds of '40s jazz, sending musicians in search of undiscovered scales and incendiary rhythms. As Parker’s ravenous appetites took their destructive toll, jazz bandleaders tried to regain control of the musical chaos, smoothing out the rougher edges by putting an emphasis on composition and arrangement. When hard-bop players such as Clifford Brown and Max Roach took on a standard such as “Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing,” they hit it with the intensity of be-bop musicians though it was always under control, even at the fastest of tempos. At its most fierce, hard bop sounded like a primal force rising through the earth, chained by man, raging, always threatening to break away.
In his latest release, Pathways, bassist Dave Holland shapes his octet into a groove-heavy, blue-flame intensity with writing that is state-of-the-art hard bop.
The octet is anchored by Holland’s quintet of ten years, a nucleus that includes Chris Potter on tenor and soprano, Nate Smith on drums, vibraphonist Steve Nelson, and Robin Eubanks on trombone. Added to that mix is Antonio Hart on alto saxophone, Alex Sipiagin on trumpet and flugelhorn, and Gary Smulyan on baritone saxophone. These added horns bring a welcome power and swing to Holland pieces like “Ebb and Flow.” Compare the original recording — in the quartet setting of Dream of the Elders — to the arrangement on Pathways and you’ll hear how the additional horns push the melody and ratchet the swing even higher. “Shadow Dance,” another song from Holland’s repertoire, has never grooved so hard.
"Pathways" opens the album with the horns setting the pace as Smuylan’s baritone leads the melody with commanding solos. The horns riff hard while Nelson plays the vibraphone with a modernistic feel. Next up is “How’s Never?” Holland starts it off with a bass solo as Nate Smith eases in with some rhythm. The marimba gives it a sophisticated feel but the horns — specifically Hart on alto sax backed by Smulyan’s baritone — gets into the groove vein of greasy funk.
Nelson’s vibes seem to shimmer as the band steps back on “Sea of Mamara.” This gentle song, featuring Potter on alto, is meditative but with Hart in the rhythm it maintains shape, staying away from the Free-Meets-Tonal of Holland’s Conference of the Birds.
The minor-keyed blues ballad “Blue Jean,” is a showcase for Potter’s soulful tenor, lyrically backed by Sipiagin on flugelhorn and Smulyan’s baritone, while “Wind Dance” (which Sipiagin composed), with its Latin tinge and rhythmic interplay, has an intriguing groove.
Recorded during a week-long stand at Birdland in New York City, the atmosphere combines with Holland’s writing and the virtuosity and inventiveness of the individual players to give this music the aesthetic thrust of classic Blue Note recordings. Dave Holland has created complex yet compelling and accessible arrangements, making Pathways a welcome addition to his discography.
(Release date: March 23 on Holland's imprint, Dare2 Records)Powered by Sidelines