Monday, November 19, 2012

DAVE HOLLAND'S BIG BAND OPENED UNIVERSITY MUSIC SOCIETY'S JAZZ SERIES

Jazz bassist Dave Holland

The Dave Holland Big Band launched the 2012-2013 University Music Society’s jazz series Saturday night at the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor. The Big Band has some sluggers—Steve Nelson, Antonio Hart, Mark Strickland, and Robin Eubank’s—walked on the stage anxious to swing, and that’s what they did from the first number Holland called to the encore the audience demanded after a lengthy ovation. 

Before the big band opened up a Costco size can of whoop-ass, Holland told the audience he’d give the names of each member at the end of the tune they’re featured on. Then Holland touched on how he enjoys playing in Ann Arbor, and that he has some fond memories of  the city, but he didn’t go into any details. The night wasn’t about a trip down memory lane. It was about a big band swinging  and Holland’s two time Grammy winning big band is expert at that. Holland's band played seven tunes, six from the band's 2002 album “What’s Goes Around”.

Holland opened with “Upswing”. The title says it all. Baritone saxophonist Jason Marshall was the first to solo, and he burned to the changes of “Upswing” like a warehouse fire. Vibraphonist Steve Nelson—one of the original members of the big band and Holland’s most trusted staffer—followed. Nelson was animated working out on the vibes like a mad scientist. Throughout the performance it appeared Nelson was in his own world.

Next Holland called “A Rio” followed by the showstopper “Triple Dance”. Alto saxophonist Antonio Hart was remarkable, which wasn’t surprising. Throughout his career Hart has been a ruthless improviser. All night, Hart behaved like the captain of a sports team, encouraging his band-mates, reacting enthusiastically as they soloed and swung through the set list. When trombonist Robin Eubanks soloed, for example, on “Triple Dance,” Hart was so hyped it appeared at any moment he’d spring from his chair and do the Dougie dance.

“Triple Dance” was the funkiest and the most urban tune Holland called. On most of the tunes the soloist soloed twice. Holland has achieved the oneness or the united sound good big bands strive for. For Holland that had to be challenging. Each member of his band has distinct character traits. The members are supportive of each other nevertheless, but some inner-band competition exists, especially between Hart and Gross. 

Gross has an old-school bebop tone. His alto has a sweet tooth and Gross ate the changes to “A Rio” like penny candy. Gross soloing seemed to embolden Hart. Their blowing could’ve been taken as competition or two journeymen horn-smith drawing the best from each other.

For the fifth tune, Holland called “First Snow,” a ballad. By then, the audience needed a breather. The band had them so worked up smoke billowed from their ears. Besides, slowing things down gave the musician’s horns a chance to cool off. After the ballad ended, the band returned to swinging.

Tenor saxophonist Mark Strickland got a late start. Once he got going on the cooker “Free For All” you couldn’t shut Strickland up. Drummer Donald Edwards didn’t get much love. He soloed on “Free For All”. His job was to motor the band and tend to the dirty work, which he did magnificently.

The audience roared for about five minutes when “Free For All” ended. That nearly made Holland tearful, knowing his band was appreciated for putting in a good night’s work. Holland placed his hand over his heart and he thanked the audience for sharing in the music.

For the encore, which the audience begged for like an overweight kid a second helping of dessert, Holland called “Blues for C.M.,” an ode to his hero jazz bassist Charles Mingus. Holland is thoughtful. He kept the audience hyped for 80 straight minutes of dervish swinging. Then he put a blues on them like a winter coat and sent them home. 
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