Until this album's release, running a big band was about the only gap on the stupendous résumé of Dave Holland. A seminal figure in both the avant-garde and fusion jazz movements of the '60s and '70s, Holland worked with his current quintet to garner four Down Beat Critics Poll awards in 2002, becoming the first group in the poll's 50-year history to do so. On What Goes Around, the 56-year-old bassist plots a measured, evolutionary path on his big-band debut, crystallizing the 13-piece ensemble with the members of his quintet, and using songs he had previously written and recorded with smaller groups. This approach (and Holland's inexperience leading a big band) precludes him from thoroughly exploring the harmonic and melodic possibilities of a large ensemble with the organic creativity of his mentors, Duke Ellington and Charles Mingus. But it does allow him to retain and occasionally expand upon the distinctive mesh of timbres, textures, and tonalities heard in his quintet, typified by the blend of baritone sax and vibraphone at the onset of "Triple Dance."
Astride these intimate group dynamics, Holland writes broad, boisterously swinging arrangements for his horns (six brass, four reeds) with a crowd-pleasing gusto reminiscent of the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis big band that played New York's Village Vanguard for more than a decade. "It's an ideal setting for drummer Billy Kilson, whose kinetic-to-combustible rhythms with the quintet often leave the impression that he should be driving a bigger vehicle." Whether he's engaging the breakneck solo of tenor saxophonist Chris Potter on "What Goes Around," or providing the thrust and contours to Holland's centripetal force on "Blues for C.M.," Kilson is joyously in his element. Add Holland's inventive timekeeping and penetrating tone (check out his Mingus-like bass solo on the intro to "Shadow Dance"), as well as the melodic agility of vibraphonist Steve Nelson, and you've got a rhythm section that delivers vigor with compelling originality.
Given Holland's impressive track record, one should expect this big band to become more adventurous and accomplished in its repertoire and interplay. There are brief, exciting moments on What Goes Around when the group's raucous voicings flirt with the fringe of cacophony. Precious few musicians can patrol that thorny territory with as much grace and command as Holland.
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