On Friday, May 6, the Overtone Quartet played at the Jazz Festival Basel, but with a different line-up than usual: instead of Dave Holland (whose name was on the tickets and the posters), Larry Grenadier was on bass, with Chris Potter on saxophones, Jason Moran on piano and keyboards, and Eric Harland on drums. After the fabulous concert, I had a chance to talk to Larry for a few minutes, and he agreed to do an e-mail interview with me about the show and his time in the Overtone Quartet.
AS: You replaced Dave Holland in his own band for the Overtone Quartet's recent European tour. How did this unusual situation come to pass?
LG: Dave has had some family matters to deal with lately that have kept him from going on the road. At the beginning of January, I subbed for him with the Overtone band in NYC at Birdland for a week. So this tour in Europe was the second time playing this music. It is an unfortunate circumstance but a great opportunity to play with this band.
AS: How much time did you have to rehearse the material? Was Dave involved in the rehearsals? If so, how did that work?
LG: We rehearsed for a few hours before the first NY gigs, just the four of us. The way the band works is that they play everyone's compositions. So we ended up playing songs by Chris, Jason, Eric and Dave as well as a song of mine. Like most bands I play in, rehearsal time is fairly minimal. After the particulars of the songs are worked out, like form, most of the development occurs on the bandstand. This is the way I like it.
AS: Did you play Dave's own parts in his compositions? Did his style influence how you played the improvised parts? (And by the way, was he one of your influences when you were younger?)
LG: Dave Holland was absolutely a major influence on me. He was and remains for me a great example of a modern bass player with all the attributes of the tradition. In the songs we played by Dave, there weren't specific bass parts. The parts I came up with were a reaction to what I felt the music needed with this particular group of musicians. This is my MO for all I do. I am using the bass to make the music sound the best I can. It all depends on the context.
AS: Had you played with Jason Moran, Eric Harland, and Chris Potter, the other members of the Overtone Quartet, before? If so, what was different, if anything, about playing with them in this context?
LG: I have played with all of them in a variety of situations. Chris I met soon after moving to NY in the early 90's. We played a lot together in the bands of Renee Rosnes, Al Foster and others, as well as playing on some of his early records. I have played with Jason and Eric with Charles Lloyd and some other contexts as well. They are some of my favorite musicians around, and in this group, the Overtone Quartet, it felt very natural to slip into the vibe. They are all completely open musicians, willing to let the music flow as it will.
AS: Do you think that "being Dave Holland" in his band will have any influence on your playing in the future?
LG: Every musical situation leaves some residue. This one being a completely positive one has left me more than a fair share of inspiration. Because this group is truly a collective, I never really felt like I was replacing Dave. I just took it as a gig with Chris, Jason and Eric. All I can hope for in the future is that I can play more with these great musicians and wish Dave and his family all my best.
AS (follow-up to the second question): How does this "development ... on the bandstand" work in practice? Was there a particularly memorable or striking example of such development in this particular gig with the Overtone Quartet that you could use to describe the process?
LG: What is happening on the bandstand with this group, but can also be said for all the bands I play in, is that a high degree of focus and perceptive listening enables almost telepathic exchanges to occur constantly. All music has this, but in my opinion, jazz music has it on the highest level. We are constantly feeding off each other. Musical decisions that worked last night might not be applicable the next night. Anything preplanned often leads to disaster. As William Burroughs said, "Nothing is true, everything is permitted." For example, on Dave's tune "Four Winds," after the melody is played, anything can happen. The solos, the feel, the length are going to be different each performance. I'm not sure if audiences always understand this. Sometimes a listener's expectations get in the way just as they can for the performer. A certain amount of openness is essential to stepping out of the way and letting the music be what it wants to be that night. If someone wants to hear the same thing played the same way each night or just like the record, there are plenty of better ways to experience that then to go to an Overtone Quartet concert.
My thanks to Larry for his comments—and to him, Chris Potter, Jason Moran, and Eric Harland for a fantastic concert. I hope to see them all again live soon!
And I hope that Dave Holland will be able to tour again this fall, as he is scheduled to appear in Basel in November with Pepe Habichuela.
Here's the Overtone Quartet in Wolfsburg a few days before the Basel concert: