One of Another Kind (Freddie Hubbard)
Hallucinations (Bud Powell)
Everything Happens (Dennis, arr. Hollyday)
Autumn in New York (Duke)
I’ve Got the World on a String (Arlen)
Segment (Charlie Parker)
Christopher Hollyday (alto saxophone)
Gilbert Castellanos (trumpet)
Joshua White (piano)
Rob Thorsen (bass)
Tyler Kreutel (drums)
Rec. Hobsound, San Diego, May 14 2018
(born in 1972) garnered a good deal of attention in the 1980s as something
of a youthful prodigy. He was playing gigs around Massachusetts by the time
he was 13. While still in his teens he led a group at the Village Vanguard
in New York (in 1988). He recorded with figures such as Cedar Walton,
Wallace Roney and Billy Higgins (on Christopher Hollyday, released
in 1989). In 1991 he recorded The Natural Moment, an album on
which pianist Brad Melhldau made his very first recording. Inbetween these
recordings Hollyday toured for a year with Maynard Ferguson’s Big Band.
Soon after recording I’ll Sing Once More (with Kenny Werner, Scott
Robinson and others), an album released in 1992, he stopped playing in
public or recording; he studied at Berklee (up to this point he was unable
to read or write music) and then relocated to California in 1996, working
as a High School Band Instructor, while also teaching private students.
From about 2013 he began to play gigs around San Diego. Telepathy
marks his return to the recording studio after a gap of a quarter of a
century. It is a long time since I heard any of Hollyday’s earlier
recordings, so I shall not attempt much in the way of comparisons, but
will, rather, comment on Telepathy in and of itself.
Hollyday has plenty of energy in his playing and abundant technique, so
there is great fluency to all that he does. It is a limitation, so far as
individuality goes, that his sound and manner are very much grounded in
Charlie Parker, his earliest inspiration. He is certainly very
well-schooled in the language of bop, as represented by Parker, and by
early Jackie McLean and Phil Woods. It is, indeed, in terms of how schooled
his playing is that one thinks in listening to Telepathy; there
isn’t much that seems genuinely personal here, nor very much sense that the
bop manner has been interiorized, as it were. The noises of appreciation
one makes (mentally!) largely relate to his dazzling technique, especially
on the faster numbers, rather than to one’s being emotionally involved or
moved. His vertiginous runs on, for example, ‘One of Another Kind’ seem to
be an end in themselves rather than a means of emotional communication. The
same goes for the double-time passages on ‘I’ve Got The World on A String’.
There is less dazzle and more warmth on a slower number such as ‘Autumn in
New York’. Overall, however, one is left with the impression that
Hollyday’s playing displays more skill than substance. Writing that in my
notes, I began to recall that something similar had been said of Hollyday’s
earlier playing, and searching online I found (
) a review, by Jon Pareles, in The New York Times (July 29
1990) of an appearance by Hollyday at the Blue Note. Pareles observed
of Hollyday that “he can rattle through scales and arpeggios at top
speed. But … his playing had more facility than depth”. So perhaps not
a lot has changed.
Hollyday’s band on this album is made up of San-Diego based musicians.
Mexican-born trumpeter Gilbert Castellanos comes close, at times, to
stealing the show from his leader. On the recordings made under his own
name, such as Underground (released in 2006), Castellanos displays
a more eclectic inventiveness than he does here, on Telepathy.
Something similar might be said of pianist Joshua White, whose excellent
album 13 Short Stories (Fresh Sound FSNT-536), recorded in March
2017, demonstrates a far more adventurous pianism (grounded,
perhaps, in the acoustic work of Herbie Hancock) than we hear from him on Telepathy. Rightly or wrongly, one has the sense that both
Castellanos and White are adapting themselves to (and are to a degree
constricted by) Hollyday’s rather more conservative musical vision.
For all my reservations, Telepathy makes for half an hour’s
pleasant listening, without ever gripping one or offering much beyond a
certain rhythmic excitement. I wonder if Hollyday might not benefit from
playing under the leadership of a stylistically more adventurous leader, in
a context where he could not so readily fall back on the kind of rapid runs
that he finds almost frighteningly easy to play?