British bassman Dave Holland has a resume that reads like a who's who of jazz. He's led bands large and small and accompanied legends from Coleman Hawkins to Miles Davis to Pat Metheny. Holland's newest album, Hands, is the fruit of a three-year collaboration with renowned flamenco guitarist Pepe Habichuela.
Holland is fond of quoting the great Sam Rivers, who once said, "Don't leave anything out. Play all of it." Holland has lived that credo, dipping his toes into blues, pop, even bluegrass. But when Holland first played with Pepe Habichuela in 2007 at a workshop in Spain, he quickly understood that flamenco, the sort of deep flamenco that the Habichuela clan deals in, was music he needed to explore more deeply.
Four members of the Habichuela family play on this record, three of them on guitar. Some go by the name Carmona, but they all belong to a flamenco dynasty that goes back five generations in Granada. Their history, refinement, virtuosity and explosive passion come through on every track.
Holland was part of some of the freest improvisational jazz ensembles of the '70s. In the '80s, leading his own bands, he became more interested in song forms and musical traditions. Now, as a graybeard, he's devoted years to understanding the nuanced melodic and rhythmic language of flamenco. Eight of the 10 tracks on Hands are based on traditional flamenco dances, but Holland does include two of his own compositions, including "The Whirling Dervish."
Holland says he wasn't out to create a fusion of jazz and flamenco on Hands. Instead, he wanted to use the breadth of his knowledge to play flamenco from the inside. He says he doubts he could have done this 10 years ago: He might have had the experience, knowledge and technique required, but not the willingness to venture into flamenco's turbulent emotional terrain.
In the end, that's what greatness comes down to in flamenco, as well as in jazz — the courage to tap into deep emotions. Holland and Habichuela accomplish that here, and that's what makes them masters.