Review Summary: ...It comes around.
Dave Holland is arguably one of the greatest bass players still currently producing music. He cut his teeth with the legends, appearing in Miles Davis’ “In A Silent Way”, “Bitches Brew” and “Filles de Kilimanjaro” along with several other important avant-garde jazz recordings. His silky skills on the bass are only matched by his abilities as a composer. He loves to work with folk-like motives, using asymmetrical rhythms and layered melodies. The layered approach to the lead melodies often relied upon the saxophone and trombone in Holland’s quartet or quintet bands. However, with 2002's “What Goes Around” being in the big band format, the approach to the leads becomes far more malleable. This makes for an exquisite, difficult listen, and one of the finest jazz albums of the new millennium.
The titular track, and album centerpiece, “What Goes Around” serves up a microcosm of everything that makes this album great. The epic 18 minute sprawl in 11/4 time starts with the coolest of bass lines from Holland. Slowly adding muted trumpets and vibraphones, the introduction seems to be taken directly from a classic film noir. Until we are introduced to the first main motive, a barn burning alto sax riff. The best way to describe this riff is, if it played by a distorted guitar, all the metal heads on this site would hail it as one of the best riffs ever! Perhaps this is a bit over the top, and only slightly tongue-in-cheek, but it was the easiest way to describe the steadily falling riff, that disjointedly (due in part to the 11/4 signature) rises back to the starting point, only to do it again and again. A few other motives come into the fold after this, and the music becomes extremely layered. This is the signature of Holland, there is so much going on in his pieces it takes several listens just to grasp it all, then several more to fully appreciate it. The soloing in this song also show that Holland is only aided by his superb backing cast.
The marimba/vibraphone component of Steve Nelson add a certain x-factor to the album. The vibraphone textures displayed in the album are some of the best on record. Second track “Blues For C.M.” features a nifty solo in it’s opening minutes that best portrays Nelson’s talents. Elsewhere, the extremely busy drumming of Nate Smith creatively pushes and pulls the rhythms, despite the difficult time signatures. Robin Eubanks (brother of Kevin Eubanks from the Tonight Show Band) on trombone perhaps is the only one who at times can steal the show from his leader. The best example again can be found in the aforementioned “What Goes Around”. After presenting a skillful set up scale variations, Eubanks precedes to play triad chords on the trombone. This means humming and buzzing at two different frequencies at the same time. Though this isn’t the first time it’s been done, it may be the best performance of the difficult feat. Through all this, the best performer remains Holland, with his steady bass work, ready to pile on the flash when need be. He continuously shows why he is one of the greatest talents working in music today.
Great musicianship is all well in good, but ultimately you, as the reader want to know if it’s an enjoyable listen. This will, of course, very much depend on a number of different factors. First, do you enjoy jazz music? If the answer is no, this will likely not change your mind. Second, if you do enjoy jazz, to what extent? The album is rooted in traditional big band jazz; the horns blare out, at times, down right catchy leads (see another of several album highlights Upswing), but the music can also be very progressively minded with it’s weaving and layered parts. While this reviewer clearly enjoys this forward thinking, difficult jazz, he does concede that it isn’t for everybody. This might be the only reason for the lack of a perfect rating, as it just will not be accessible for everyone. Still, I stress that everyone at least try the described “What Goes Around”, perhaps the best jazz piece of the new millennium. If you enjoy that piece, you will love the rest of the album and find yourself continuously drawn back to it. After all, what goes around, does indeed come around; does it not?