Dave Holland: Prism

John Kelman By

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Prism: Dave Holland: Prism Two instruments that bassist Dave Holland has rarely incorporated into his projects have been piano and guitar, his only guitar-centric album coming sixteen years after his first release as a leader, Conference of the Birds (ECM, 1973), when he recruited Kevin Eubanks for a particularly powerful set on Extensions (ECM, 1989). It took Holland even longer—nearly a quarter- century, in fact—before piano first surfaced on Pass It On (Dare2, 2008), with the recently deceased Mulgrew Miller, though Holland would subsequently turn to piano again with Gonzalo Rubalcaba on The Monterey Quartet: Live at the 2007 Monterey Jazz Festival (Monterey Jazz Festival Records, 2009), a group subsequently renamed the Overtone Quartet, when Jason Moran took over the piano chair.

All of which makes Prism something of an event, with its inclusion of piano and guitar—and with Eubanks making a welcome return that, along with recent solo recordings like The Messenger (Mack Avenue, 2013), puts a definitive period on his years leading the house band on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.

Fortunate folks in Ottawa, Canada were treated to a preview of Prism when it played its first (and only) North American date in 2012 at the TD Ottawa Jazz Festival before heading to Europe for a summer festival tour. It was a terrific show, but one that promised even more once the band—a clear collective, where compositional credits were shared equally—had the chance to clock up some real road time together.

A year later, Prism delivers on that promise—and in spades. Drummer Eric Harland—the perfect balance of visceral groove, thundering power and delicate elegance—is back from both Pass It On and the Overtone Quartet, making the increasingly ubiquitous and encyclopedic Craig Taborn the only first-time encounter (at least, on record) for Holland. The pianist's inclusion of Fender Rhodes as well as acoustic piano, coupled with Eubanks' often distortion- drenched or otherwise-effected six-strings, also makes Prism the closest thing to fusion in which Holland has participated since the expat British bassist's early North American days, playing with Miles Davis on albums including the classic In a Silent Way (Columbia, 1969) and the recently unearthed gem, Live in Europe 1969: The Bootleg Series Vol. 2 (Columbia/Legacy, 2013).

Eubanks' "Watcher" kicks the set off with a clear statement of intent, a hard-driving fusion workout with the guitarist's gritty octaves layered over Taborn's similarly overdriven Rhodes, bolstered by Holland's ever-unshakable anchor and Harland's ability to blend frenetic interplay with relentless groove. Not since the guitarist's stellar trifecta of Blue Note recordings beginning with 1992's Turning Point and ending with 1994's Spiritalk 2, has Eubanks played with so much unrelenting energy, but those three recordings were largely acoustic efforts, and didn't have a pianist with Taborn's broad pedigree—there was no piano, period, in fact— keeping up with him note-for-note, and capable of the same kind of effortless dexterity.

Eubanks' tone is occasionally clean, but still invariably effects-heavy; his episodic "Evolution" begins deceptively, with swelling, chime-like Rhodes and the guitarist's own subdued, muted phrasing, but it's not long before the group begins to build over a knotty series of arpeggios reminiscent of Turning Point's title track. A dark-hued Rhodes solo over a once again subdued groove gradually intensifies until Eubanks arpeggio-laden ostinato lays some groundwork for a drum solo of frightening finesse, leading to the guitarist's near-light speed run, so heavily distorted as to recall the energy and vibe of John McLaughlin's early '70s Mahavishnu Orchestra.

Of course, the big difference, even when Prism does go to high octane, high volume extremes—and this is one recent album with Holland that is best played loud—is that it's anchored by Holland's double bass, which ensures an organic foundation no matter where the rest of the quartet goes. The bassist's two compositional contributions—the down-tempo'd, gentle funk of "The Empty Chair" and fierier "A New Day" both fit within Holland's overall oeuvre, yet are tunes that would be hard to imagine being performed by any of his other longstanding groups.

The majority of Prism may groove with serious intent, but there are brief excursions into other terrains, most notably with Taborn's two contributions. "The idiosyncratically themed "Spirals" devolves into some unexpected moments of total spontaneity before turning energetic once more, as Holland and Harland return with a propulsive foundation over which Eubanks demonstrates that he's a match for Taborn's freer predilections. "The True Meaning of Determination," on the other hand, is the only track to open with an a cappella bass solo, but it's not long before it turns to knotty counterpoint, Taborn's left hand doubling Holland's underlying line while his right joins Eubanks' overarching theme in unison. Eubanks turns in another near-nuclear solo, with Taborn shifting to Rhodes, but after the guitarist's climactic conclusion, Taborn moves back to acoustic piano for a jagged solo of staggered rhythms and even more angular development, Harland remaining remarkably in concert with the pianist throughout.

Harland—whose Voyager: Live by Night (Space Time, 2010) and ongoing work with both James Farm and SFJAZZ Collective suggests a composer of growing confidence and acumen—also contributes two tunes. "Choir" dances, at first, with Eubanks' dense-toned but lithe, Afro-centric chord pattern, but when it opens up into a lengthy acoustic piano solo, it's spritely swing all the way, while the drummer's dark-hued "Breathe" ends the set on an introspective note of unexpected beauty.

With Holland the prime instigator behind the group's formation, Prism may well be referred to as his, but that would be a mistake. From a creative, compositional and contributive perspective, Prism is unmistakably a collective, and Prism is, hopefully, just the initial fire off the bow from a group that, were it to dissolve after just this recording and upcoming 2013 tour, would be nothing short of criminal. With a debut this compelling, Prism is a group that needs to continue.

Track Listing: The Watcher; The Empty Chair; Spirals; Choir; The Color of Iris; A New Day; The True Meaning of Determination; Evolution; Breathe.

Personnel: Dave Holland: bass; Craig Taborn: piano, Fender Rhodes; Kevin Eubanks: guitar; Eric Harland: drums.

Year Released: 2013 | Record Label: Dare2 Records | Style: Modern Jazz

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