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"Of course, the rhythm section is a very important part of it -- it creates a backdrop that gives the band a unique sound," Holland continues. "One of the concepts that we talked about is to try and play the music conceptually as we would in the small group, rather than having the sort of classic big band approach in the rhythm section."
Featuring new arrangements of Holland tunes such as "Shadow Dance" and "Blues for C.M.," the Montreal performance received rave reviews, and a brief tour and a well-received album titled What Goes Around followed. Since then, the band has done additional touring and has recorded an album featuring a suite commissioned by the Monterey Jazz Festival that will be released next year. "This is the first big band that I've written for," Holland notes. "I wanted to start at this point with the traditional three sections of trumpet, trombones and saxophones. I wanted to work with that and experiment with the possibilities. I like the sound that instrumentation makes, but I'm trying to do something more conceptual with it to make it sound different.
"The small group gives you a little less density and maybe a little more flexibility in some ways," he adds. "But I'm still thinking about featuring the improvising aspects of the music, even though there are more compositional materials."
To augment his quintet, Holland has recruited a capable group of additional musicians, including saxophonists Antonio Hart, Gary Smulyan and Mark Gross; trumpeters Taylor Haskins, Alex Sipiagin and Duane Eubanks; and trombonists Josh Roseman and Jon Arons. "We're trying to combine players of different age groups and experiences," he says. "One of the nice things about a big band is the chance for cross-generational contact. I really wanted a mixture of young players and players of more experience so we could have that kind of contact."
Holland cites diverse influences on his big-band writing, from the classic collaborative orchestrations of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn to more recent work by Thad Jones, Kenny Wheeler, Gil Evans and Charles Mingus. Like Ellington and Strayhorn, Holland strives to cast specific players in roles that showcase their individual talents. "I wanted to find players who bring their own personalities to the band," he explains. "I like to create settings for the different styles that people play."
He's not afraid to shake things up a bit, either. "We try to add new works all the time to keep the juices flowing," Holland says. "I like to keep the program interesting for us as well as the audience. There is a certain amount of flexibility built into the compositions for that reason. Some of the compositions allow for a choice of who might play on it on a given night, and that gives people a chance to play on different material. I really want to feature everybody in the band on one piece each so that everybody gets a chance to get out and make a statement."