Holland and Co. jam with pleasure in Spaulding

by Linzi Sheldon | 2/2/04 6:00am

Twenty-five years after his last visit to Dartmouth, legendary jazz bassist Dave Holland returned to Hanover this past weekend. This time, he brought his Grammy-winning big band for a rollicking modern jazz concert Saturday night.

Holland's fingers were flying from the very first song, as would be expected from a bassist who has played with jazz legends like Pat Metheny, Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock, Holland is always more than just part of the rhythm section. Unlike the common bassist, who plays what is known as a "walking bass," Holland is always either creating melodies or adding to the already complex harmony. All of the members of his band are superb musicians, and like Holland, they are all capable of adding personal flourishes while still playing close to the score.

During "Bring It On," part of the band's Monterey Suite, the audience was treated to a long, energetic tenor saxophone solo by Chris Potter and a trombone solo by Robin Eubanks, who delivered his solo with remarkably rapid note delivery. The two of them joined forces in a lively saxophone and trombone exchange that began as call and response and progressed to an almost argument in which the two of them began overlapping as well as playing off each other.

Another highlight of the night was the alto saxophone bravura of Antonio Hart, who played a soulful solo with vibrato in the cool "Blues for C.M." Hart showcased skillful wide pitch bends, testing the limits of control on his mouthpiece and receiving appreciative hoots from the audience for his effort.

However, the lowlights of the evening were the vibraphone solos by Steve Nelson, whose solos were pleasant only in restrained, small doses. In longer solos, Nelson seemed to go overboard at times with vibraphone scales and random notes, hitting the instrument so hard that the echo of certain notes rang harshly into the next notes. Thankfully, the marimba was used in more moderation and added unique percussion to the songs.

One of the most inventive and modern tracks was "Free For All," which, as one might expect, was a rip-roaring song full of wild, improvisational solos that began with the bandleader himself. Spaulding Auditorium was silent except for Holland's fingers on his strings as he began with a Spanish guitar-like intro that soon picked up with impressive speed. It literally became an emotional free-for-all on the bass, with Holland's face contorted in concentration and effort as his fingers flew over the strings, shunning the bass's bow.

Bathed in orange stage light, Chris Potter on the tenor saxophone rocked the audience and his own band members with an inventive, daring solo with abandon equal to Holland's. Potter seemed to enjoy putting on a physical performance, and he threw himself into the solo, bending his knees and rocking his body from side to side. His exertion was rewarded by the audience with whistles and applause. Nate Smith riffed and rolled in a long drum solo that had his dreadlocks flying as he hammered his drums in what could be called the best part of the concert.

Holland was obviously enjoying himself all night, grinning at his bandmates and bobbing his head along to their solos. Holland says that he has tried to create music wherein "the written music sounds like improvisation, and the improvised music sounds like it's written." Accordingly, at many points during the performance it was difficult to tell whether the musicians were following the score or riffing on their own tangents.

Indeed, two of Holland's talents were on display Saturday. Not only did he impress with the proficiency of his bass playing, but also with his skill as a bandleader. Though it was Holland's name on the marquee of the Hopkins Center, his bandmates were every bit as much the stars of this show as he was.