You can experience jazz at two different extremes at the Regattabar this month, in visits from the quintets of Dave Holland and Tomasz Stanko. Englishman Holland, 63, one of the great heroes of jazz bass playing and an esteemed bandleader and composer, loves propulsion, complex multi-layered grooves, and the occasional roar of collectively improvised counterpoint.
The Polish Stanko, 67, is a European modernist whose trumpet and flügelhorn playing owes a lot to the lyricism of Miles Davis — as does his dramatic use of space and silences. Holland dances, Stanko meditates. Both create beautiful music.
Stanko’s new Dark Eyes (ECM) is typically serene. To give you an idea of his approach: fully the first half of his 9:23 “Samba Nova” is in a slow rubato tempo before the sprightly samba theme kicks in. The same goes for “The Dark Eyes of Martha Hirsch” (inspired by an Oskar Kokoschka portrait), which begins with a slow, halting, minor-key melody played in unison by trumpet and piano before drifting into free interplay and then finding its way to a boppish theme over swing walking bass. “Dirge for Europe,” by Stanko’s former mentor Krzysztof Komeda, is built on a piano vamp that recalls Bill Evans’s “Peace Piece.”
In place of his rhythm section of the past few years (with pianist Marcin Wasilewski), Stanko is working with guitarist Jakob Bro, pianist Alexi Tuomarila, bassist Anders Christensen, and drummer Olavi Louhivuori — all of whom come to the Regattabar on Tuesday the 20th. This band create the identifiable Stanko broad landscapes, but with new colors, and even a bit of jazz-rock edge on a tune like “Terminal 7.” And Christensen has a pellucid electric-bass sound that’s more Steve Swallow than Jaco or Bootsy.
You could say that Dave Holland leads with his acoustic bass, just like another great virtuoso on the instrument, Charles Mingus. Check out the title, opening track from his new octet CD, Pathways (Dare2), which was recorded live at New York’s Birdland in January of 2009. Here’s a broad, brawny theme anchored by Latin rhythms, and featuring some hefty baritone sax work from Gary Smulyan and a crafty crossweave of brass and reeds. But if you zero in on Holland, you can hear how he’s simultaneously limning the tune’s harmonies, driving its syncopated engine, and also maintaining a melodic flow that continues right into his solo. Plenty of bassists can do all or part of this at any given time, but Holland is that rare bird who can churn rhythm, harmony, and melody all the time. And he isn’t a lead guitarist in drag — this is support that, like Mingus’s, absorbs what’s going on around him and reflects it back.