Sometimes it's necessary to shake up even a good thing. Dave Holland's decade-old Quintet with vibraphonist Steve Nelson, trombonist Robin Eubanks and saxophonist Chris Potter has garnered multiple awards and significant attention. But while the group has evolved as a standalone unit on albums including Critical Mass
(Dare2, 2006), and as the core of Holland's Big Band on Overtime
(Dare2, 2005), the overall sonority has become, perhaps, a little too familiar.
The debut of Holland's sextet on Pass It On
may include members from his Quintet and Big Bandsaxophonist Antonio Hart, trombonist Robin Eubanks and trumpeter Alex Sipiaginbut pianist Mulgrew Miller and drummer Eric Harland make this group unlike any Holland's had before. Still, despite a new complexion and fresh blood, it possesses the various threads that have defined Holland since he began leading groups in the mid-'80s. Pass It On
largely revisits material from earlier Holland albums: the evocative ballad "Equality" and dark groove of "Lazy Snake" from Dream of the Elders
(ECM, 1996); the rubato freedom that turns into a visceral modal groove in "Rivers Run" from Triplicate
(ECM, 1988); the 5/4 ballad "Processional" from Extensions
(ECM, 1990); and fiercely swinging "Double Vision" from Seeds of Time
(ECM, 1985). There's also a Latin-esque reading of "Modern Times" from Homecoming
(ECM, 1995), by Holland's collaborative Gateway trio with guitarist John Abercrombie and drummer Jack DeJohnette.
Most tunes will be familiar to Holland fansand even the sax/trumpet/trombone frontline won't be new to followers of his mid'-80s quintet with Eubanks, altoist Steve Coleman and trumpeter Kenny Wheeler. But this is the first time the bassist has used piano in a groupa perhaps more conventional complexion that he's intentionally avoided in the past by using vibraphone or guitar as chordal instruments. But with the vibrant Miller, it fits in comfortably with Holland's evolving concept; the sextet clearly dovetails with his other work of the past 25 years.
There's a different kind of energy here, with Holland combining the more liberated approach of "Rivers Run," which harkens back to his '80s quintet, with Eubanks' polyrhythmic "The Sum of All Parts." The latter opens the disc with the musicians entering one at a time, ultimately coalescing into the kind of visceral, irregular-metered groove that's been so definitive of Holland's Quintet and Big Band. Everyone's a star here, but Harland and Miller push the group in new and different ways; Miller's distinctive out-of-Tyner harmonic approach and Harland's empathic, elastic playing open the group up to greater freedom and interpretation.
Dipping into his past repertoire is a device Holland also used for his Big Band's debut, What Goes Around
(ECM, 2002); however, this smaller and more intimate ensemble with a big sound revisits his material with greater flexibility and power. Pass It On
is the welcome and long overdue debut from a sextet that's been performing for a couple of years, and possesses the same deep chemistry that has made Holland's other groups and releases such winners.