Distinguished bassist and bandleader Dave Holland plays as much as he wants, which tends to be a lot. Still, he's catching his breath after an extensive tour with old friend Herbie Hancock following the success of Hancock's Grammy-winning tribute to Joni Mitchell, River: The Joni Letters (Verve, 2007). Tour dates multiplied exponentially after the disc was surprisingly named Album of the Year by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.
Now after a short break, Holland hits the road again, this time leading a new band of his own. He comes to the Bay Area to perform at both Yoshi's venues with a new full-length, Pass It On (Emarcy).
Holland's sextet includes three horns: alto saxophonist Antonio Hart, trumpeter Alex Sipiagin, and trombonist Robin Eubanks. Pianist Mulgrew Miller and drummer Eric Harland make up the rest of the group on record, two musicians Holland specifically wanted to record with. "One of the reasons we put the project together was for me to have a chance to play with Mulgrew Miller," Holland said over the phone from his upstate New York home. "We had done a few things together, but not nearly enough to satisfy me."
Miller won't be on the tour, though. Longtime Holland colleague and vibraphonist Steve Nelson joins the ensemble instead. Both the record and the band highlight Eubanks, who joined the SFJAZZ Collective last year. "He's a great asset to have in the band, not only as a trombonist and musician, but also as a composer and arranger," Holland said. Eubanks contributed two originals to Pass It On.
The bandleader reorchestrates several compositions from earlier records, including "Lazy Snake," "Rivers Run," and the haunting ballad "Equality." "The piece originally was written as a musical setting for a wonderful poem by Maya Angelou with Cassandra Wilson singing the words," Holland said. "When I was thinking of music for this band, I thought it would be a nice vehicle for Antonio, and he really plays it with great feeling."
The musicians played Pass It On's music live before going into the studio, which Holland thinks might explain the album's consistently dynamic pulse. "We're trying," he said, "to record projects that are actually happening."
DAVID HOLLAND SEXTET
Wed/24Thurs/25, 8 and 10 p.m., $20
1330 Fillmore, SF
Also Fri/26Sat/27, 8 and 10 p.m.; Sun/28, 2 and 7 p.m., $5$22
510 Embarcadero West, Oakl.