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REVIEW: Dave Holland, Chris Potter and the Academy Big Band at the Royal Academy of Music

Nick Smart and the Academy Big Band
Rehearsing in the Susie Sainsbury Theatre
Photo courtesy of RAM

Dave Holland, Chris Potter and the Academy Big Band
(Susie Sainsbury Theatre, Royal Academy of Music, 5 October 2018. Review by Frank Griffith)

A vibrant and exhilarating night of sounds from Wolverhampton-born, and later USA-bound, bassist Dave Holland and saxophonist Chris Potter ensued on 5 October at the Royal Academy of Music.

The Academy Big Band conducted by Nick Smart prevailed heroically through 11 pieces of Messrs, Holland and Potter, delighting the packed house no end. This occasion also marked the first concert – as opposed to an opera or a music theatre work – to be held in the new Susie Sainsbury Theatre, a rounded venue, both in design as well as its tempered acoustical environment, allowing the jazz orchestra to resound evenly without boom or bombast.

South Carolina-bred saxist/composer Chris Potter premiered a set of new compositions based on lyrics from poets such as Sappho, Millay and Kabir. These were rendered excellently by singers Liselotte Östblom and Ella Hohnen-Ford (who also played mellifluous flute in the ensemble). Potter’s flawless technical command of his instrument (throughout a five-octave range) coupled with fervent emotional cascades driven amongst the powerful big band figures was spellbinding indeed. One longed for a brief lie-down to recover and absorb after each piece.

Other on the other hand, Holland’s pieces (three of which were arranged by Jim McNeely, resident pianist and composer for the NYC based Vanguard Jazz Orchestra) took a more laconic and groove-oriented approach. They allowed more for soloing from the composer, from Potter, and the hugely impressive students from the RAM band.

Nick Smart, soloists and the Academy Big Band acknowledging the applause
iPhone snap by Sebastian Scotney

Among these were Finnish tenor saxophonist Adele Sauros, who possessed a clear tone with poised, but inventive melodies. Trumpeter Alexandra Ridout kicked the evening’s programme off on Holland’s The Razor’s Edge with her fluent angular modalities to great effect. Following this was guitarist Rose Frater-Taylor‘s solo featuring sparse but meaningful sound textures. Also, the horn of Robyn Blair contributed richly to all of the Potter pieces’ back line of three trumpets and horn. This brought back echoes of Miles Davis’ Birth of the Cool epic sonority from 1948 which marked the introduction of the horn into the modern jazz ensemble.

RAM band director, Nick Smart, summed things up well near to the close of the nearly three-hour concert. “This music is a beautiful and mysterious thing… It’s about people… quavers, interludes, motifs play a role but the human heartbeat prevails…” One could sense some heartfelt emotion in his voice imparting these words and how could one not in the presence of Jazz icons like Potter and Holland collaborating with the promising talents of the RAM jazz programme.

This concert was preceded by a presentation of an Honorary Membership of the Academy to Dave Holland. He spoke briefly, humbly accepting and expressing his appreciation of the award.

Dave Holland receiving the Hon RAM from
Professor Jonathan Freeman-Atwood


The Razor’s Edge (comp/arr Dave Holland)
It Can Never Be Mine (lyrics Sappho, comp/arr Chris Potter)
We Wear the Mask (lyrics Dunbar, comp/arr Chris Potter)
Jugglers Parade (comp Dave Holland/ arr Jim McNeely)
Weeds (lyrics Millay, comp/arr Chris Potter)

Make Believe  (comp Dave Holland/arr Jim McNeely)
To What Shore (lyrics Kabir, comp/arr Chris Potter)
Ario (comp/arr Dave Holland)
Come When the Nights (lyrics Dunbar, comp/arr Chris Potter)
Cosmosis (comp Dave Holland/arr Jim McNeely)

Encore: The Empty Chair (comp/arr Dave Holland)

Note: the Chris Potter compositions were all world premieres, the Jim McNeely arrangements were UK premieres. 


Double Bass Dave Holland
Tenor saxophone: Chris Potter


Conductor : Nick Smart

Vocals: Liselotte Östblom, Ella Hohnen-Ford
Saxophones and woodwind: Alex Bone, Jonny Ford, Harry Greene, Adele Sauros, Damon Oliver
Flute: Ella Hohnen-Ford
Trumpets: Luke Vice-Coles (lead), Alex Ridout, Laurence Wilkins, Ife Ogunjobi, Steven Nichols
Trombones: Rory Ingham, Harvey Tongs, Harry Whitty
Bass Trombone: Harry Maund
Horn: Robyn Blair
Guitar: Aubin Vanns, Rose Frater-Taylor
Piano: Matt Carter, Wilbur Whitta
Bass : Will Richardson (Come When the Nights), Rhys Lovell (To What Shore)
Drums: Oren McLoughlin, Luca Caruso

LINKS: Peter Bacon and Nick Smart’s preview of the current term at RAM
List of the 300 current awardees of an Hon. RAM

Categories: Live reviews

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