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One Good Sound

Dave Holland Big Band Performs From New Album

By Allison Lewis

Dave Holland Big Band

Berklee Performance Center

Oct. 4, 8 p.m.

One big, full, beautiful sound filled the concert hall Friday night. It belonged to the Dave Holland Big Band. On stage was Dave Holland, wearing a big smile and wiggling his hips with his bass. In addition to his bass, Holland’s 13-piece band included four saxophones (two altos, one tenor, and one baritone), three trombones, three trumpets, percussion, and vibes, all played by fun, friendly-looking guys, who, like Dave Holland, liked to smile. Their music was both well-rehearsed and well-played. It was polished, straight-up jazz, with several key solos, all, of course, driven by Holland’s powerful walking bass line.

Holland has explained his sound in the past: “I wanted the music to be settings for improvisers ... to combine improvisation and written parts. Flexibility has been built into the music, so we can change it from night to night ... so that each personality comes through.”

On stage, some personalities came through more than others. The trombones and saxophones played with the most force. At times, Holland and the trumpets seemed to be playing in the shadow. But, after listening to Holland’s new album, What Goes Around, I realized this trombone-sax emphasis is key to Holland’s sound. The music is calm, and sometimes dark, carried along by buzzy, melodic saxophones, and dramatized by brilliant, sliding trombones.

They played “Blues for C.M.,” a song off their new album; for me, this song was the high point of the night. Dedicated to Charles Mingus, “Blues for C.M.” is not a blues at all, but a very chill, tuneful tune, with a cool and confident stride. Each instrument section has its own melody, and the ensemble of melodies comes together into one awesome sound, the way it should. I had listened to and loved this song on the new album, but on stage, it was slightly different and even more impressive with magical solos. Steve Nelson’s vibraphone solo was light, fast, and, well, vibrant. Antonio Hart’s alto saxophone solo had a sweet and stunning sound.

Most mesmerizing was Holland, whom I had waited all night to hear. Now he played his solo, fast and furiously. He looked angry, but played a smiley, melodic sound.

For the rest of the night, I made a point to watch Holland. If he hadn’t been so perfect, I might have noticed him more in the beginning. He fit inside the music, bending notes, plucking away with quick fingers, producing a thick and exciting sound. Happy in its state of non-use, the bow, somehow attached and protruding from the bottom of his bass, danced along with the swaying instrument.

All night, the big band’s sound was “Happy Jammy,” the title of the last tune performed. Only then did I finally notice the amazing drummer, Billy Kilson, whom, like Holland, I had overlooked before because he was keeping the beat so well. Kilson broke into rhythms I swear I’ve never heard, a sound like a seizure. And then he went crazy with it, and I wanted the obnoxious sound to stop. After a while, he calmed down (as did I), just in time for the finale, which was followed by much cheering and applause.

Holland has spoken in the past about his outlook for his genre of music: “My concept for the big band is really the celebration of the collective by a group of true individuals.” During the night, every person in the band got at least one chance to solo. Some solos were more individual than others; after a while, many of the solos began to sound the same -- this isn’t what impressed me.

Dave Holland’s Big Band played music that was fun and filled with skill and talent. This is what I was in the mood to hear: no funky or cacophonous contemporary music. Just classic stuff: Good, harmonious sounds. Dave Holland played wonderful jazz.