The greatest virtue of bassist Dave Holland’s recordings, whatever the size of the ensemble he leads, lies in how directly the compositions evolve from the improvisation(s) of the players. The key may be that Holland writes with his players in mind. As exhibited on the title song to this live recording from Birdland in 2009, that’s clearly a consummate talent in itself. But the band’s still got to execute and it’s only a matter of moments before the Octet is in full flight for close to eleven minutes on "Pathways."
The momentum never flags during the course of that performance either. Rather, its drama builds as it approaches conclusion, a dynamic all too similar to what ensures on "How’s Never?” as here the group emphasizes interaction through the arrangement, rather than vice versa, but the end effect is equally exquisite, all the more so because the sound mix retains the richness of all five horns (including saxophonist extraordinaire Chris Potter), particularly as they contrast the rhythm section’s instruments.
"Ebb and Flow" could not be more aptly titled because it’s representative of what a rare pleasure it is to anticipate each individual soloist, such as trombonist Robin Eubanks, as much as the unified movement of the band as a whole (this octet has both agility and power). In turn, to savor the variety of material is sublime to say the least, it’s uncanny that Holland composes so keenly to tailor the tunes for the players, but even more so to observe the way the musicians react as they play. "Shadow Dance" is just one example of how the songs flower so fully when interpreted by an instrumentalist as naturally intuitive as Steve Nelson: the vibist embroiders even further upon the ornate pattern of the composition itself.
There is a truism sparked about business organizations that the tone is set from the top but when it comes to Dave Holland’s groups, the tone is definitely set from the bottom, and eloquently so at that.