Jazz and politics: “Pass it On”

by | Oct 28, 2008 | Blog, Memoir | 1 comment

A former regular reader of this blog got in touch recently and reminded me that I used to write about jazz a bit. Which reminded me I’d been remiss in not describing the wonderful Dave Holland Sextet gig I attended at Birdland in midtown a few short weeks ago. I even had a whole page of notes that I’d scribbled while sitting at one of the elegant little tables dotted around the venue.

The band opened with a fresh version of his existing composition “Modern Times” on the new CD, “Pass it On”. The buttery tone of Robin Eubanks’ cascading trombone solo was the cream atop the caffeine, Holland’s signature layering of a complex texture from a simple repeated motif (this one originating with Holland’s bass) that drives many of his compositions and welds the band together. The flugelhorn came in later and floated through the melodic line in a stunning contrast to the trombone and alto sax.

The addition of Mulgrew Miller at the piano seemed to take the entire Holland sound into new territory. I’ve loved the work Steve Nelson has done playing vibes on previous recordings, but I’m a fan of Mulgrew’s from way back. His lush chord voicings and glissandos make the most powerful contribution to the new flavour of the band.

The contrasts of light and dark, of charming melody and complex harmony, seemed to reflect the political yearning of the musicians. The political context was made more overt in Holland’s selection of “Equality” (his setting of a Maya Angelou poem) and the last song “Step to It” – which the bandleader introduced as “a little message for November”. One month out from the election, watching the tight-knit interaction of the musicians – hailing from all over the world, with skin of different colours, playing at the top of their game both individually and collectively – my heart filled with the hope that a 21 year-old white boy named David Holland, who came to the US and started playing with Miles Davis in the 1960s, might grow up to see a black man become President of the United States.

(PS Thanks for the link, Rick, but it has been removed from YouTube by the user. Pity, I was curious.)

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