Pathways marks the recording debut of the Dave Holland Octet, a new lineup for the 63-year old British jazz bassist. The seven tracks are a superb demonstration of that configuration in full eclectic flight. The landmark bassist, who cut his improv teeth during the electric Miles Davis era and early Chick Corea explorations, while shaping his own innovative sounds on acoustic and electric, allows each band member to find one’s own relevant space within these live tracks. And, most importantly, the groove is always maintained, always pondered and enhanced, as Holland lays the rhythmic bedrock on each tune, while band members solo and blow.
Recorded live at New York’s Birdland in 2009, along with some newer material, which, not surprisingly, is engaging and adventurous, Holland revisits two tracks from his four decade-plus career (“How’s Never?” and “Shadow Dance”), and somehow finds a way to keep the music fresh, adventurous, and somewhat tethered to their original core essence.
The title track opens the album, and immediately sets the tone and modus operandi —a subtle Holland bass is omnipresent in the background, while soloists seek and ponder in the foreground. “How’s Never?”—as mentioned, an older track revisited and reshaped—is long, lucid, and fun with a warm opening motif from Holland to set the overall mood. “Sea of Mamara” is one of two tracks not written by Holland. Instead, saxophonist Chris Potter shares a composition which is thoughtful and melodic while drifting on the edge of a silent dream. Vibraphonist Steve Nelson is also a warm treat on this track, as he is throughout the album. “Wind Dance,” the other non-Holland-penned track, and written by Alex Sipiagin, is an excellent representation of breath modulation and color palette by the trumpet and flugelhorn player.
“Ebb and Flow” lives up to its name as the brass players eventually ascend and descend in fluctuating rhythms to great effect. Robin Eubanks on trombone and Chris Potter on tenor saxophone are stellar highlights while the bassist also has a sweet solo spot. “Blue Jean” has a patient downtempo feel, relaxed and visual, and features Sipiagin on flugelhorn, and Gary Smulyan on baritone sax. Nelson, again, is a fine tonal texturist on vibraphone. “Shadow Dance,” the longest track on the album, features all band members on a scenic nocturnal journey—a clear standout on an impressive septet of numbers from the recording debut of the Dave Holland Octet, a numeric and colorful format which works quite well for the legendary bassist.