At an age when most people are easing into retirement, 67-year-old bassist Dave Holland can’t stop working.
Popping up this Saturday at UCLA’s Royce Hall as one of the marquee headliners of the six-night Angel City Jazz Festival (which kicks off Friday at LACMA), the onetime Miles Davis sideman and longtime fixture on the jazz vanguard will appear with his latest ensemble, Prism. A bracing electric quartet composed of players who are bandleaders in their own right in pianist Craig Taborn, drummer Eric Harland and guitarist Kevin Eubanks, Prism’s churning, groove-heavy sound is a marked departure from some of Holland’s acoustic work with his quintet.
Speaking by phone from his longtime home in the Hudson Valley in upstate New York, the British-born Holland shrugged off the idea that Prism marked a musical shift. “I’m just really interested in the creative process and doing things … that I feel can keep me growing as a musician,” he says. “I just thought it was time for me to set a new project in motion.”
Assembled with the goal of reconnecting with Eubanks, who played guitar with Holland in the ‘80s and ‘90s before serving as bandleader for “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno,” Prism was envisioned as a collaborative effort by Holland — each member wrote two songs apart from Eubanks, who wrote three. With Eubanks often taking the lead with flame-throwing runs that are miles removed from the talk show circuit, the results include a shape-shifting nocturnal blues in Holland’s “The Empty Chair (for Clare),” swerving gospel-funk in Harland’s “Choir” or the clockwork pulse of Taborn’s “The True Meaning of Determination.”
The venture toward head-bobbing fusion triggers memories of Holland’s storied stint backing Davis on albums “In a Silent Way,” “Bitches Brew” and “Live-Evil,” a groundbreaking period of wide-open cross-pollination between jazz, rock and funk that was reexamined earlier this year in the breathtaking set “Miles Davis Quintet: Live in Europe 1969.”
“You know, I don’t really mind [the comparison],” Holland said. “Everybody has their own point of view about the recording, and I think it’s quite natural for that to happen.
“That period I was with Miles was an amazing period for Miles’ music, a transitional period — as most of them were, actually,” he adds with a laugh. “His music was constantly in transition.”
It’s a philosophy that’s remained close to Holland’s heart. In addition to his landmark free-jazz recording “Conference of the Birds” in 1972, Holland kept evolving through recordings with recently named NEA jazz master Anthony Braxton, saxophonist Steve Coleman and the late Sam Rivers, a lengthy collaboration that was captured last year with the recording of a 2007 reprise of their trio with Barry Altschul, “Reunion: Live in New York.” Even on his long-running acoustic quintet, Holland has remained dedicated to exploration in a way that’s also reflected in a business standpoint (since 2005, Holland has released albums on his own label, Dare2).
“What I’ve tried to do is just keep moving and keep developing,” Holland said. “I think a lot of us who worked with Miles were so inspired by that type of restless creativity where he had to just keep renewing and renewing, you know?”
He shows little sign of slowing down. As well as an ongoing tour and planned second album with Prism, Holland plans to record an intimate duet album with pianist Kenny Barron and reconvene his flamenco project with guitarist Pepe Habichuela, a band that was captured with the 2010 album “Hands.”
“It hit me so hard emotionally,” Holland said of the project. “If that had happened to me 10 or 15 years ago I don’t think I would’ve been ready to make that commitment to that music, but there was something about where I was at in my life that that music was suddenly what was relevant. I got really taken by it.”
But jazz remains at Holland’s core. When asked who among the current new crop of musicians has grabbed his ear, he humbly defers, preferring to mention no names rather than inadvertently forget anyone. Still, he remains positive about the music’s progression based on what he sees on the bandstand and as an educator, which recently included a new position as president of the National Youth Jazz Collective, a U.K. organization that creates opportunities for musicians ages 12 to 18.
“The future of the music is in good hands,” Holland said. “If you feel this music … it’s so compelling, you know, the range of things that are possible with it. There’s always going to be people who are prepared to make the sacrifices and do the work to try and make a contribution to the great tradition that it represents.”
Angel City Jazz Festival
Friday: Nicole Mitchell’s Sun Dial Ensemble, Zach Ramacier Group. LACMA, 6 p.m. (Free concert)
Saturday: Dave Holland’s Prism, John Scofield Überjam. Royce Hall, UCLA, 8 p.m.
Sunday: Greg Osby Group, Yosvany Terry Quintet, Kneebody, Richard Sears Group, John Anson Ford Amphitheatre, 5 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 11: Jim Black with Tim Lefebvre and Chris Speed, the Claudia Quintet, REDCAT, 8:30 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 12: Terence Blanchard Quintet, Zipper Concert Hall, Colburn School of Music, 8:30 p.m.
Sunday, Oct. 13: Dafnis Prieto Sextet, REDCAT, 8 p.m.
Cost: $20 to $50