2. Dave Holland – alone with the bass


From Dave Holland – Ones All. (1995)

Has Dave Holland ever made a bad recording? If so, I haven’t found it. I could pass 52 weeks choosing tracks featuring his work. (Maybe next year). But this one will serve for the second item on my list.

Last week’s opening offering was, inevitably, a bit arbitrary. Should the next be related in some way? I considered – and listened to – a dozen or so recordings that came to mind. Time-consuming, but also intensely enjoyable. Then it came to me unbidden that I needed to write about this one, which I haven’t listened to for a couple months.

There is a slight connection – Holland played bass on Tropic Appetites. But why choose this among all his recordings? I have an equal affection for duos with Steve Coleman, Sam Rivers (especially those) or Anthony Braxton; for quartets, quintets and sextets; for his big band. But for me, it conveys something of the essence of the man better than any other.

Some are averse to bass solos, let alone solo bass recitals. I’m definitely drawn to the lower register. I wouldn’t stay there all the time, but it’s great for an hour or so. It has to be used supremely well, though, as here. And I reckon this set, recorded in ’93, outdoes his earlier solo bass (and one on cello) recordings for ECM. It also went out of print fairly quickly – though now lives again on Spotify – so maybe hasn’t worked its way into so many people’s affections.

It is more or less a short version of the solo recital Holland occasionally delivers live (you can find a few on YouTube). A London date at Wigmore Hall a few years back was a single set that lasted twice as long as this CD, but featured many of the same, long-cherished tunes. So what we have is a selection of the pieces Holland is closest too, and what he can tell us he feels about them, unaided.

As this piece shows, he is a prince among bass players. He’s not “the best” in any absolute sense (who could be?). Paul Rogers has a more formidable technique; Christian McBride a stronger sound. I could go on. But Holland can make a line sing in a way that I just don’t quite get from anyone else. A solo set highlights that. There’s a trade off. You don’t get the interaction with other players that furnishes many of the satisfactions of jazz. But you can concentrate on one thing – to steal Paul Klee’s words about drawing: a player taking a line for a walk. The effect is gorgeous, and relaxingly hypnotic.

Any of the tracks here show this. I choose Cashel for its lovely, lilting tune. It’s the one I’ll be humming when I get to the end, usually. It’s typical of the set, too, in the elaboration and decoration, which never move too far from the basic line. At 5 minutes it’s roughly the same length as the others – time for a statement, some variation, and a reprise. The business here, on each track, is to explore the deep mood of the song, not to put it through the wringer of virtuosity.

I always find the full set deeply satisfying. It tends to evoke thoughts, not very coherent, about the mystery of why upright bipeds want to construct a thing of wood and metal, so one of them can make these sounds just using their fingers. And why there are some (me, for instance) who cannot really make music, yet are still benignly obsessed with the art. Mainly, though, I reach the end each time feeling – if just for a moment – that music like this means all’s right with the world.

I could raise the stakes. I will. We all have personal favourites because of time and circumstance. Whenever I hear The Mahavishnu Orchestra and The Inner Mounting Flame my inner 16 year-old awakes and is happy. But this is more than that. The great biological essayist Lewis Thomas has a piece where he discusses the bits and pieces of culture stowed aboard the Pioneer space probe, for the edification of any aliens it encounters beyond the Solar System. He muses on the inclusion of some Bach on the LP of Earth’s greatest hits. Well, he avers, that’s just boasting.

I’m keeping this recording up my sleeve for a slightly different scenario. I’m up before the gravest of tribunals, defending Earth’s application to join the Galactic Federation. It’s going badly*. Well, I say. We have our flaws and follies, I know. But still, please have a listen here before you decide. Human beings can also do this.

Wikimedia commons

*A scene revisited recently here by Vinny Thomas

link to full album

Why the No 2?

This is one of a series running (in no particular order) through 2021. I explain a bit what it’s doing here.

And I’m going to collect them all on this page.


  1. Thanks Jon. Though a big Dave Holland fan I had not come across this one. Lovely. If an algorithm took things on from here, how about “Soapsuds” with Ornette Coleman and Charlie Haden in duo exploring the spaces.

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