Jazz musicians are typically wide-ranging in their musical relationships, taking pleasure in the ideas and energies that arise in the chemistry of various bands. Bassist Dave Holland, for example, is working with at least six groups — three duos, two trios, and a quartet — as a leader this year. The newest is a trio with the legendary pianist Kenny Barron and drummer Nasheet Waits. They play the Lensic Performing Arts Center on Friday, July 26.
Holland and Barron, whose collective performance résumés span about 115 years, have played in duo form since 2012. On their 2014 album The Art of Conversation, the titans exercise their considerable talents on seven of their own compositions, as well as on tunes by Charlie Parker (“Segment”), Thelonious Monk (“In Walked Bud”), and Duke Ellington (“Day Dream”).
Stanley Clarke, the colorfully virtuosic bassist best known as a co-founder of the groundbreaking fusion band Return to Forever, is the final Santa Fe act of the 2019 New Mexico Jazz Festival, at the Lensic Performing Arts Center, 7:30 p.m. Saturday, July 27.
On the afternoon before the July 26 concert (which is the penultimate Santa Fe event of the 2019 New Mexico Jazz Festival), Holland and Barron are featured in a “Meet the Artist” conversation with A.B. Spellman, jazz historian and retired deputy chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts.
The audience may hear about Barron’s beginnings in Philadelphia, where he was born in 1943. He was making music with the likes of Mel Melvin, Philly Joe Jones, and Roy Haynes when he was still a teenager.
Barron went on to make more than 40 albums as a leader and hundreds as a sideman with Dizzy Gillespie, Lionel Hampton, Buddy Rich, and other stars of the music.
Holland, born in 1946 in Wolverhampton, United Kingdom, took up the double bass in his teens, teaching himself to play along with records by Leroy Vinnegar and Ray Brown. One of his breaks into the big time came in 1968, when bandleader/composer/trumpeter Miles Davis heard him play at Ronnie Scott’s jazz club in London, and offered him a job. Holland joined Davis’ new semi-electric “fusion” band that year and played bass on the groundbreaking albums Filles de Kilimanjaro, In a Silent Way, and Bitches Brew.
Since he put together his first working band in the early 1980s (with the now-renowned quintet recordings Jumpin’ In, Seeds of Time, and The Razor’s Edge), Holland has performed and recorded in a dazzling array of combos, including his early-2000s Dave Holland Big Band.
Pasatiempo found Holland at home in New York’s Hudson Valley, on July 8.
Pasa: You and Kenny Barron recorded The Art of Conversation about five years ago. Have you worked with him a lot over the years?
Dave Holland: We’ve done some touring together, not like a consistent thing that we do throughout the year, but each year we do something. Sometimes it’s a European tour, sometimes it’s a few concerts here and there. Mostly we’ve played in a duo setting, and this year we decided to do some trio playing and I’m very happy that Nasheet’s joining us.
Pasa: How would you describe Kenny’s playing?
Holland: It embodies the jazz tradition and the great heritage of the jazz piano. And as have all great musicians, he’s also taken that heritage and personalized it and added his chapter and moved it forward in his own way, from his own point of view. He has this incredible knowledge of the tradition and of the song form, the great collection of songs that have been part of the jazz canon since the beginning, so we can reference that in the concerts. We have some original pieces that he’s written and that I’ve written, but then we’ll pull out a song by Billy Strayhorn or a Duke Ellington tune or a Charlie Parker tune. It’s a great resource.
What we both enjoy is, like, the name of that album: It’s a conversation, a dialogue, and a spontaneous kind of journey that you go on when you’re improvising with each other. And he’s a great listener, which all great players need to be, to be able to connect up with the people they play with and to complement and to support as well as contribute to the music. Kenny’s a great accompanist, which is evidenced on so much of his recorded work with Stan Getz and so many others.
Pasa: Prime Directive in 2000 and your three other quintet albums from that period are so great, even though those groups had no piano. How do you think about that today?
Holland: Well, we did have a wonderful vibes player, Steve Nelson, and he provided plenty of harmony and plenty of chords. The nice thing about vibes and also guitar, really, is that there’s a certain spaciousness because of the limitations of the instrument. Of course, it depends on the pianist. One of Kenny’s heroes is Thelonious Monk, and Monk was such a great example of using space, as was Duke Ellington and also Andrew Hill and Herbie Nichols. They had a way of using the piano that was very “orchestrative” and percussive. That’s something you don’t always hear in pianists. Miles used to say they were all playing piano concertos — “There they go with the piano concerto bit” — and I think it’s one of the reasons he played with the electric piano, because it forced the piano player to think about the instrument differently.
Pasa: Two or three of the songs on Miles Smiles have a pretty open feeling because Miles asked Herbie Hancock to only use his right hand on the piano.
Holland: Oh, yeah. Herbie is an extraordinary musician. He’s in that lineage, as well as being an incredible soloist. Listen to him accompanying people and he gets right inside their heads, and the use of space — he’ll drop out for six or eight bars instead of just keeping the chords going, then come in at just the right moment with something. And when he plays chords, he plays chords that still have an open quality to the tonalities, which allows the soloist to find different paths through the harmonies.
Pasa: You’re working in a pretty good variety of groupings this year, aren’t you?
Holland: I am. I have a new record coming out Oct. 11 called Good Hope with the Crosscurrents Trio, which is a group with Zakir Hussein on tabla and percussion and Chris Potter on saxophone. Then I’ve got some other recording going on with the trio with Kevin Eubanks on guitar and Obed Calvaire on drums, and we’re going into the studio to record in September. I’m also looking to put out some live recordings, one with the Aziza band, which is with Chris Potter, Eric Harland on drums, and Lionel Loueke on guitar. We toured last November and we’ll be recording soon. And the guitarist John Scofield and I are getting set to do some duet performances. We’re doing a week at the Blue Note this coming Thanksgiving week.
Pasa: Your most recent recording is 2018’s Uncharted Territories, which is pretty splendidly out there. Do you and Kenny get into those places?
Holland: Oh, he can stretch out, yeah. He’s got a piece called “What If” that we play sometimes and it can go in all kinds of directions. I think both Kenny and I enjoy exploring the possibilities of the music in lots of different ways and he’s very open-minded and responsive to ideas and also initiating ideas, and he loves new challenges. Of course, we play quite a range of music. We won’t be doing any of the music that was on Uncharted Territories in Santa Fe, because that was designed for that particular group of musicians.
To me, it’s the spirit of the music that counts, and I think we both enjoy the unpredictability and the excitement of that kind of thing. That’s what I live for. I don’t want to get up onstage and play what I played in the last 10 concerts. I’m looking to discover something about what I can do and what I can do with the people I play with. That’s really what lights my fire. ◀
▼ Meet the NEA Jazz Masters: A.B. Spellman with Kenny Barron
and Dave Holland
2 p.m. Friday, July 26
Lensic Performing Arts Center, 211 W. San Francisco St.
No charge; 505-988-1234, ticketssantafe.org
▼ Kenny Barron-Dave Holland Trio with Nasheet Waits
7:30 p.m. Friday, July 26
Lensic Performing Arts Center, 211 W. San Francisco St.
Tickets $30-$65; 505-988-1234, ticketssantafe.org