Dave Holland: Uncharted Territories

Don Phipps By

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Bassist extraordinaire Dave Holland's album Uncharted Territories embraces the avantgarde creed of exploration and innovation over chord progressions. Along with master musicians saxophonist Evan Parker, keyboardist Craig Taborn, and percussionist Ches Smith, Holland and crew fashion one sonic twist after the next in a progression of 23 tracks, 20 of which are recorded improvisations.

The "double" album allows each of the musicians plenty of room to awe the listener with soundscapes that seem to dissolve and reform. Light meets darkness. Pollock meets Rothko. Soul meets spirit. Spontaneity meets formalism.

Some of the highlights:

Ches Smith's "Thought on Earth," starts eerily, like sounds at night in a dense bayou fog. Smith plays the vibraphone as Holland, Taborn, and Parker improvise around the theme. At the mid-point, Smith moves to drums. The piece progresses like interlaced lines strung together in an intricate spider web.

"Tenor -Percussion W2" gives Parker and Smith (again on vibraphone) the room to explore musical notes that linger and echo. Overtones play a critical part in the atmospherics of the improv. Parker's reed control is nothing short of amazing.

Smith starts "QT12" with a drum kerflop. Parker blows long while Taborn splashes on the keys. Then it's off to the races as Holland walks the bass in his rapid-fire trademark fashion while Smith adds flourishes. Parker and Taborn sprint alongside. The music takes roller coaster spins and hairpin turns. And even though the pace is exuberant, Taborn exhibits a light touch with his embellishments. Approaching the end, Smith exerts himself, his drumming flowing like a waterfall spilling out into rapids.

"QW2" begins with a plaintive abstraction by Parker. Taborn strikes chords on the piano before breaking into a series of notes. Holland enters with a bowed solemnity. There's some eerie blues. Smith uses several drums to add color. Taborn creates tension by splashing across the entire length of the piano. A kind of fluid Morse Code emerges from Parker's tenor and Holland probes abstract bass lines. The music stretches, helped by Taborn's repeating motifs, and becomes more free form as it builds. Parker offers buffeting attacks countered by Taborn's bluesy antics. The piece winds down to a turtle-like pace with the minimalism of repetitive notes.

On "Organ -Vibes W1," Taborn plays a spooky chord on organ which is picked up by Smith's chimes and bells. Taborn's electronics create an other-worldly atmosphere. Think Kubrick's ride to the infinite.

Smith begins "Bass -Percussion T2" on cymbals with odd strikes and snaps. Holland enters with syncopated bass lines of both jazz and free motifs. After Holland's fast walk on bass, Smith follows with light cymbal work. Holland continues to add percussive ups and downs as Smith unexpectedly funks it up. Holland brings it with rapid-fire attacks mixed with deep growls and spongy notes. Smith joins him with some light but aggressive foot-pedal work on the bass drum, exploring the colors of the drum as Holland generates a rolling series of notes.

"QW1" begins with a single bass note as a sense of sadness emerges in the improv. Taborn joins in with a single-note attack and Smith enters with cymbal work. Parker surprises with some airy squeals and slurring notes. Taborn lays down bluesy chords -the languid phrasing is both haunting and dream-like. Smith sprinkles in sounds as the three other musicians maintain a dirge-like improv. Parker leads and Smith adds percussive chimes and some vibraphone to the mix. The piano darts and the bass explores full-bodied deep notes. The notes suddenly collide to create a spontaneous rush of sounds. The music then deconstructs. Smith climbs back on the trap set. Holland plays a series of rapid phrases as Parker's circular breathing creates musical patterns. There's a sense of rolling forward. Vertigo. Dizzyness. Revolving doors.

Dave Holland once said, ..."I don't want to work with people who need to be told what to do. I want people to show me what they've got." Uncharted Territories surely demonstrates what he, Parker, Taborn and Smith all got. To call this music cerebral would be an understatement. To call it challenging and complex would not do justice. One might instead describe the music as subatomic singularities and quarks, and the infinite microspaces between them. But unlike the uncertainty of the quantum world, this physical reality comes together. Uncharted Territories proves there are many places in this world that remain unexplored. Recommended.

Track Listing

Thought on Earth; Piano - Bass - Percussion T1; Q&A; Tenor - Percussion W2; QT12; Tenor - Bass W3; QW2; Tenor - Piano - Bass T2; Organ - Vibes W1; Bass - Percussion T2; Tenor - Piano - Percussion T1; QT13; Tenor - Bass - Percussion T2; Piano - Percussion W3; QT5; Tenor - Bass W1; Piano - Bass - Percussion T2; Unsteady As She Goes; Bass - Percussion T1; QW5; Tenor - Bass - Percussion T1; Tenor - Bass W2; QW1.


Dave Holland: bass; Evan Parker: tenor sax; Craig Taborn: piano, keyboards, organ, electronics; Ches Smith: percussion.

Album information

Title: Uncharted Territories | Year Released: 2018 | Record Label: Dare2 Records


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