Andre Previn once wrote that “Bill Holman most assuredly is a first-rate saxophonist, but his true instrument is the orchestra, and he plays it with musicianship, honesty and brilliance.”
Holman has almost given up playing his tenor sax (he used it only on the closing number Saturday night at the Wadsworth Theatre), but his artistry as a composer and arranger is simply nonpareil. If the tune is by someone else--Billy Strayhorn, Thelonious Monk, Sunny Rollins--he will sublimate it with extra bars, new harmonic ideas, wild counterpoints, stop-and-go rhythms, odd instrumentations (for Monk’s “I Mean You” he employed three soprano saxes as a centerpiece).
All the charts were interlarded with splendid solos by, among others, Bob Cooper on tenor, Alan Broadbent at the piano, Steve Huffsteter on trumpet and fluegelhorn. Bob Efford’s baritone sax on Jimmy Rowles’s “The Peacocks,” with flutes leading the background, revealed Holman’s most engagingly lyrical side.
If the subject is a dated ditty such as “Moon of Mannakoora,” Holman will tear up the tired, the poor, the muddled music yearning to breathe free, and will fix it all up with new richness. He is without doubt the world’s greatest detrivializer of trivial tunes.
Among the Holman originals, the standouts were a blues entitled “Lightning,” a cooker called “No Joy in Mudville,” and the unique “Just Friends,” in which all the horn sections played five choruses in plain unison, to limn what he called “an orchestrated jam session.”
As has long been the Wadsworth custom, the second hour was broadcast on KKGO. This was, as emcee Chuck Niles pointed out, the 50th concert in a series that began in January, 1984. One can be sorry that a great band like Holman’s so rarely has a chance to be heard, but thankful that it attracted a large audience both on the air and in the theater.