The day before this solo concert, Dave Holland was awarded an honorary degree by Birmingham Conservatoire, and gave a workshop to its jazz students. The bassist grew up in Wolverhampton, but was whisked away to the States by Miles Davis in 1968, after being "discovered" at Ronnie Scott's. He played on Bitches Brew and In A Silent Way, staying with the trumpeter for three years.
Holland's accent has become decidedly American over the ensuing decades. Twenty years ago, he wrote "Homecoming" while touring the UK with his first band, and it made a fitting start to this extremely intense 90-minute set. Holland had elected to play not only solo, but without any amplification, standing completely exposed.
Great stamina is needed for such a display. When heard and viewed in close proximity, it soon becomes apparent that embracing the bass is a demanding physical activity, particularly when there is a need for handling rhythm, tune and solo duties all at once.
Holland describes his compositions as songs, pointing towards an intention to give them a narrative drive. His 1978 solo bass album Emerald Tears was an abstract affair in comparison, recorded before the bassist developed a talent for creating tunes that deserve to enter the pantheon of jazz standards.
Listening to "Homecoming" and "Jumpin' In" from his 1980s quintet days, there's a tendency to hear the band parts from the records, as Holland's blurring fingers embellish his line with sweet treble runs and chordal strums.
His fingers snap hard, his foot stamps, his breath huffs until he explodes with a gasp of ecstasy, relief - or effort. At first, he offers anecdotes for the tunes, but gradually words peter out, and Holland enters a sequence of songs without pause.
He tackles one of Anthony Braxton's compositions, Charlie Mingus's "Goodbye, Pork Pie Hat" and encores with Coltrane's "Mr PC".
Several times, Holland finishes a piece, and stands back, as if surprised by what he's created. In the end, he's beaming, moved by the rapturous response. It's hard to imagine this recital could have risen to a higher technical or spiritual level.Reuse content