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Dave Holland's 'Prism' Goes To 11, Elegantly

Oct 1, 2013
Originally published on October 1, 2013 1:26 pm

The quartet on jazz bassist Dave Holland's new album Prism is more electrified, and usually louder, than bands he's led before. Some reviewers see its music coming out of his early work with the electrified Miles Davis, but the parallel doesn't go far. Holland played bass guitar with Davis, not his usual bass violin. Plus, early electric Davis was gloriously unruly, while Holland loves the elegance of interlocking rhythm cycles, wheels within wheels. "Spirals," by the band's pianist and electric pianist Craig Taborn, takes Holland's higher math into curved space. (Taborn has an eerie knack for playing two unrelated parts with either hand. There's no room for error — his left hand is locked in with the string bass.)

Dave Holland gets top billing on Prism, but the quartet feels like a co-op. The four share the writing more or less equally. The first musician Holland thought of for the band was Kevin Eubanks, a frequent ally before the guitarist's 15 years leading Jay Leno's house band. His tune "Evolution" echoes the wizards of jazz-rock in the Mahavishnu Orchestra, but Eubanks lets in more air.

The guitarist's role here is pivotal; Eubanks makes this an electric band even when he's the only one plugged in. Sometimes when he breaks off, a sterling piano-bass-drums trio emerges, as in the churchy "Choir" by drummer Eric Harland, who can really prod a soloist with economical punctuation.

Everybody on Prism understands that the pleasures of the groove are complex and deep — it's not just about moving feet. Dave Holland has minded such matters for decades, but he's wise to shake up his music even when it's been going fine. Trading information with smart younger colleagues gives you a fresh look at the puzzle. Now, that's an idea he might've gotten from Miles Davis.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. Our jazz critic Kevin Whitehead has a review of a new quartet album by bassist Dave Holland, whose acoustic combos usually have a horn or two and no piano. His new band is a little different.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE EMPTY CHAIR")

KEVIN WHITEHEAD, BYLINE: Dave Holland's tune "The Empty Chair" from his album "Prism." His new quartet is more electrified, and usually louder, than bands he's led before. Some reviewers see it coming out of Holland's early work with the electrified Miles Davis, but the parallel doesn't go far. Holland played bass guitar with Miles, not his usual bass violin.

And early electric Miles was gloriously unruly, while Holland loves the elegance of interlocking rhythm cycles, wheels within wheels. "Spirals," by the band's pianist and electric pianist Craig Taborn, takes Holland's higher math into curved space. Taborn has an eerie knack for playing two unrelated parts with either hand. There's no room for error. His left hand is locked in with the string bass.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SPIRALS")

WHITEHEAD: Dave Holland gets top billing on "Prism," but the quartet feels like a co-op. The four share the writing more or less equally. The first musician Holland thought of for the band was Kevin Eubanks, a frequent ally before the guitarist's 15 years leading Jay Leno's house band. His tune "Evolution" echoes the wizards of jazz-rock, the Mahavishnu Orchestra, but Eubanks lets in more air.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EVOLUTION")

WHITEHEAD: The guitarist's role here is pivotal; Kevin Eubanks makes this an electric band even when he's the only one plugged in. Sometimes when he breaks off, a sterling piano-bass-drums trio emerges. The churchy "Choir" is by drummer Eric Harland, who can really prod a soloist with economical punctuation.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CHOIR")

WHITEHEAD: Craig Taborn on piano. Everybody on "Prism" gets it; that the pleasures of the groove are complex and deep. It's not just about moving feet. Dave Holland has minded such matters for decades, but he's wise to shake up his music even when it's going fine. Trading information with smart younger colleagues gives you a fresh look at the puzzle. Now that's an idea he might've gotten from Miles Davis.

GROSS: Kevin Whitehead writes for Point of Departure, Downbeat and eMusic and is the author of "Why Jazz?" He reviewed "Prism," the new quartet album by bassist Dave Holland on the Dare To label. You can download podcasts of our show on our website freshair.npr.org. You can follow us on Twitter at nprfreshair. Our blog is on Tumblr at nprfreshair.tumblr.com. I'm Terry Gross. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.