Friday, May 28, 2021

‘Another Land’ by Dave Holland Review: Songs for a Summer Afternoon

 © Copyright ® Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“Holland has been spoken of in the same breath as the legendary Scott LaFaro; he shares the American’s bright, exact intonation, incredible hand speed and utter musicality.” 

- Richard Cook and Brian Morton, The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed.

“Liberated from the physical work of playing with high action, jazz bassists rapidly expanded their technique during the 1950s and 1960s. Extending a concept begun by Red Mitchell and Charles Mingus, Scott LaFaro developed a rapid fingering and plucking system, and found the perfect place to use it when he joined the Bill Evans Trio in 1959, with Paul Motian on drums. Together, the three musicians invented a style of jazz in which no one was required to spell out the tempo with an explicit beat. This gave LaFaro the freedom to invent a new kind of "conversational" bass accompaniment, made up of short melodic figures and phrases rather than of a steady pulsing line. Like Blanton, LaFaro died (in an auto accident) only two years after becoming a major influence in jazz, but his recordings continue to inspire jazz bass players (LaFaro with Bill Evans Trio, Waltz for Debby Riverside/OJC]).”

- Bassist Bill Crow, Bill Kirchner, ed., The Oxford Companion to Jazz

“In whatever setting he performs, Holland can play with lightning speed, rhythmic precision and perfect intonation. His solos are marked by a clean, clear rounded tone and by thoughtful control and development of ideas. His style and dexterity put him on a level with Scott LaFaro and Gary Peacock.”

- Ed Hazell, Barry Kernfeld, ed., The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz

The jazz bassist reunites with guitarist Kevin Eubanks and drummer Obed Calvaire on an easygoing album.

By Martin Johnson

Copyright ©2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 

Appeared in the May 24, 2021, print edition as 'Songs for a Summer Afternoon.'

“Dave Holland is one of jazz’s leading bassists, and he has made dozens of superb recordings; most of them, usually in quartet, quintet or big band settings, present exuberant and vivacious music. On his new album, “Another Land” (Edition, May 28 release), he showcases a more intimate approach. His previous ensembles were often among the elite, and for good reason—they combined an old-school approach to structure (a rhythm section with big interlocking pieces) with of-the-moment solos propelled by a sense of harmonic freedom. “Another Land” features a trio and puts these values to work in a more discreet way.

It reunites Mr. Holland with guitarist Kevin Eubanks, who played on two of the bassist’s best recordings, “Extensions” (ECM, 1990) and Prism (Dare2, 2013). The two have a seemingly intuitive connection in moving between and within different grooves and styles, and that forms the foundation of this trio; veteran drummer Obed Calvaire offers concise accents and gentle thrust to the music. The three musicians have toured together from time to time, creating memorable performances. The trio’s week at the Village Vanguard in 2016 produced one of the best live shows I’ve seen—its set moved seamlessly, changing moods and rhythms astutely.

It was from their tours that the trio developed the repertoire for “Another Land.” The recording leads with Mr. Eubanks’s “Grave Walker,” and thanks to him and Mr. Holland, the piece feels like it is about to embrace the louder, more aggressive power-trio aspect of the instrumentation and produce music worthy of an action-adventure film soundtrack. Yet for all of the revving up, it quickly settles into a more relaxed groove, as if the excitement is being related in a lively conversation punctuated by laughter rather than fireworks.

The title track follows and sets the mood for the rest of the program. Mr. Holland’s warm bass tones and Mr. Calvaire’s deft brushwork provide the bed for a complex, introspective solo from Mr. Eubanks, his bandmates embellishing their support; it’s music for a lazy summer afternoon that offers more than just a vibe. “Gentle Warrior,” written by the drummer, is aptly named, and it features Mr. Eubanks’s most accomplished solo of the set. The guitarist, who was well known to jazz fans as a virtuoso before he spent 15 years as Jay Leno’s foil and bandleader on “The Tonight Show,” is not a flamboyant player; instead, his solos probe the weave of a tune rather than break its fabric. Most of the compositions here are highlighted by solos, but Mr. Eubanks’s “20 20” begins with a stellar ensemble section that feels improvised. And behind the guitar and bass solos, Mr. Calvaire is forceful in his accents and driving rhythms.

“Mashup,” the first single, is the exception to the recording’s serene mood. It’s an up-tempo jam, and a stellar showcase for Mr. Calvaire’s dynamic percussion. Mr. Holland’s “Passing Time,” which follows, returns to the almost pastoral sensibility that pervades the album. The group interplay is again a highlight as Mr. Eubanks’s solo flows seamlessly into a duet with the ensemble’s leader. In the promotional materials that accompany the recording, Mr. Holland speaks of their live shows as blues jams, and the final track, “Bring It Back Home,” offers overt blues references in both the basslines and the guitar licks, yet it doesn’t feel like a rehash. The band has taken something familiar and made it new.

The music here doesn’t just recall the template of other Holland-led groups. Some of the tracks evoke Gateway, a collective trio that joined Mr. Holland with guitarist John Abercrombie and drummer Jack DeJohnette for two recordings in the mid- and late ’70s, and then reunited for two more in the ’90s. The rapport was similar, albeit with a different range of styles; Gateway lacked the assertive rhythm that has been Mr. Holland’s signature in his own ensembles.

The bassist received his first big break at age 21 when Miles Davis tapped him to replace Ron Carter in his celebrated second quintet, and Mr. Holland participated in the late-’60s Davis ensembles that electrified jazz. But this narrative omits crucial information from the 74-year-old’s formative years. As a teenager in England, Mr. Holland was pursuing bass guitar and angling to play in rock bands when he picked up albums by Ray Brown and Leroy Vinnegar at a record store. These recordings pushed the acoustic bass into a more intermediary role between the front and the back line instruments, creating an easygoing shifting rhythmic floor to the music. He put aside his interest in bass guitar and bought a double bass to explore this inspiration. Although Mr. Holland’s music sounds nothing like Brown or Vinnegar’s, his big bold tone and articulated structures have become his defining elements in a wide range of bands and a cornerstone to his long-running success.”

—Mr. Johnson writes about jazz for the Journal.

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