“Hands” by Dave Holland and Pepe Habichuela – a flamenco jazz summit
Dave Holland and Pepe Habichuela
Review by Douglas Heselgrave
Pairing of legendary British jazz bassist and Spanish guitar virtuoso is unexpectedly better than the sum of its parts
Dave Holland has spent much of his career standing in the shadow of giants. If you’ve spent any time listening to Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Coleman Hawkins, Chick Corea or John McLaughlin over the years, chances are you’ve heard this understated bassist provide depth and colour for some of jazz’s most celebrated players. Yet, for all of that, and despite years spent playing music with musicians who were unafraid of turning traditional structures on their ear, Holland has often played it safe and favoured precision over innovation and groove.
It’s easy to see why top flight musicians would choose Holland for their bands and how they would come to rely on his rock solid playing. On albums like Miles Davis’ groundbreaking ‘Bitches Brew’, Holland’s intuitive sense of structure was often the only element that prevented the whole proceedings from flying off in all directions and descending into chaos. Yet, it would do Dave Holland’s art a disservice to suggest he is nothing more than a model of precision. He is also blessed with an impeccable sense of timing and a warm fluid tone that is second to none. Yet, his fans have rarely had the chance to hear him as at ease as he is on ‘Hands’ – a collaboration with Pepe Habichuela, one of the great living masters of the flamenco guitar.
Holland and Habichuela met in Sevilla, Spain and instantly realized their shared affinity for Gypsy music. Holland had long admired Flamenco culture and its ability to go beyond music to encompass food, wine and an appreciation of nature, and after spending some time hanging out together, the pair decided to embark on this recording project. Habichuela recruited his son, Josemi and his renowned group Ketama to fill out the sound.
‘Hands’ is the result of their collaboration, and though the compositions are heavily weighted towards flamenco rather than jazz, the points at which the two styles merge provide the most thrilling moments on this album. In the same way that jazz was a rallying point for Afro-American culture and outsiders from the mainstream, flamenco offered cultural dignity and identification for gypsy culture. Until recently, both musical forms existed primarily as aural art forms with no written music for players to follow – relying instead on emotion, intuition and improvisation.
In this sense, ‘Hands’ offers a summit for two musicians at the peak of their powers. Both Holland and Habicheula play with a finesse that one can only gain from a lifetime of practice. There is never a sense that either of them is struggling or reaching in order to impress. The compositions they play are complex and often require lightning speed and reflexes to execute properly, yet the essence of each soundscape they create relies on intuition and the ability to relax into a groove. There is a certain emotional maturity to the music that requires far more than virtuosity. It is in this dynamic between ‘feeling’ and technical ability that the magic on this disc resides.
Holland and Habichuela clearly love the opportunity to enter each other’s musical territory. ‘Joyride’ and ‘Whirling Dervish’, two tracks that Holland brought to the project are essentially jazz vehicles that Habichuela gently nudged and transformed with the moody colours created by his flamenco guitar lines. In a similar vein, Holland tackles ‘Camaron’ – a flamenco taranta – with surprising warmth and grace. At points, his bass confidently strides into the forefront – a rare occurrence in flamenco music – as he sketches out territory and defines parameters in wide colourful strokes. Holland consistently strikes the perfect balance between discipline and openness which allows Habichuela to go off into some very wild and unrestricted territory on numbers such as ‘Hands’ and the aforementioned ‘Whirling Dervish’
Hopefully, Dave Holland and Pepe Habichuela will find some time in their busy schedules to tour with this project. There is so much room inside of each of the pieces on this album to improvise and expand on stage that it would be a crime if they didn’t hit the road together. Until then, people will have to content themselves with a truly thrilling set of songs that gets more interesting with every repeated play. Acoustic music doesn’t get much better than this.
This posting also appears at www.restlessandreal.blogspot.com
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