The old joke that the audience will have a chance to chat shortly – there’s a bass solo coming up – is never further from reality than when Dave Holland‘s in the house. Back at Ronnie Scott’s, the club where Miles Davis first heard him over 50 years ago, Holland’s full-toned muscular style was dominant from the opening bars of the first tune, a haunting new piece called ‘Leandi’ by saxophonist Chris Potter. Starting with Holland alone, the track’s long tension-and-release chord sequence had a Middle Eastern or Moorish feel. Playing ‘work out the time signature’ proved fruitless before the tune seamlessly became a samba with the odd 7/4 measure thrown in, Potter taking a second, stratospheric, solo. Holland told us that it was while working in a Greek restaurant during his teenage years that he was first exposed to 5/4 time – it seemed he was giving a clue as to how scarce 4/4 would be tonight.

As with much of Holland’s repertoire down the years, the tracks were built up from labyrinthic bass riffs, with guitar and sax creeping in, picking up on and mutating fragments of Holland’s phrases. The distinctions between solos, melodies and collective improvisation were sometimes clear, sometimes blurred, with each player constantly upping the ante, then taking it back down so that Holland’s bass once again was alone in the spotlight. Eric Harland‘s drumming was a vital component; almost conversational with a non-stop supply of inventive, exciting fills, always supportive, but never overly dominant. Kevin Eubanks‘ idiosyncratic guitar playing came to the fore as the evening progressed. Eubanks, depping for Lionel Loueke here, played with great subtlety and a sense of space, moving in and out of focus with sudden squalls of rapid notes and powerful, tension-building chordplay.

Bursts of funk and then what seemed purely improvised passages with ever-changing points of focus between the musicians would suddenly come into view; it was like taking a musical rail journey with a constantly shifting landscape seen through the window. The occasional look of wry amusement which spread across Potter’s face as he contemplated the latest junction of chords and rhythm was revealing, a reaction to the delicious bouts of spontaneity unravelling about him. But then it would all come together, Eubanks strumming powerfully, both sets ending with a rocking, explosive intensity. Pure joy.

Adam McCulloch
– Photo by Carl Hyde

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