Thursday, August 19, 2021

Slither, Funk, Fusion & Blues from Dave Holland's Exciting Guitar Trio "Another Land"

Another Land Dave Holland, Kevin Eubanks, and Obed Calvaire, Edition Records 

For the last fifty years, the bassist Dave Holland has been at the forefront of traditional, modern, avant-garde/free, and fusion jazz. Born in 1946 in Staffordshire, England, by the age of twenty, Holland was a fixture as a reliable and gifted bassist at London’s Ronnie Scott’s. He was seen there by Miles Davis and Philly Joe Jones and was fortuitously enlisted by the trumpeter to replace the departing bassist Ron Carter in his progressive quintet of the late sixties. During his stay he was recorded on Davis’ Filles de Kilimanjaro (1968), In A Silent Way (1969), and Bitches Brew (1970). With this exposure came opportunities, but this immensely talented bassist did not settle into a predictable or safe career pattern.

Holland had a two-year stint with the Davis’ quintet, at that time including keyboardist Chick Corea, drummer Tony Williams (later Jack DeJohnette), and saxophonist Wayne Shorter. The bassist joined a short but potent progressive, openly free-swinging group titled Circle with Corea, reedman/composer Anthony Braxton, and drummer Barry Altschul. Corea departed the band, but Holland’s relationship with Braxton created lasting relationships with other progressive musicians including Canadian trumpeter Kenny Wheeler and saxophonist Sam Rivers. Holland composed and recorded his first release as a leader, the impressive Conference of the Birds on ECM with Rivers, Braxton and Altschul. All Music’s Steve Huey called this record “…one of the all-time avant-garde jazz classics” and Rolling Stone noted, “… it only gets more impressive as time passes.” 

In the early seventies, Holland joined forces with guitarist John Abercrombie and drummer Jack DeJohnette forming GatewayThe group had plenty of fire, and could also have a more pensive, ethereal approach to music.

Holland’s collaborations found him crossing paths with a who’s who of the music world. Besides those listed above, he has played with Stan Getz, Kenny Barron, Thelonious Monk, Joe Lovano, Pat Metheny, Roy Haynes, John Surman, John McLaughlin, Herbie Hancock, John Scofield, and Dave Liebman to name just a few. Throughout his career he has constantly expanded his palette to create exciting music, utilizing changing formats ranging the gamut from solo to big band forms to follow his musical muse.

I was fortunate to last see Holland and his impressive world music-inspired trio Crosscurrents at Emory back in 2017. This trio included Holland, saxophonist Chris Potter, and percussion master Zakir Hussain. In my opinion, the east meets west album Good Hope was one of 2019's best recordings.

Holland's latest release came out in March of this year, again on Edition Records, and is titled Another Land. This music is a powerful musical statement. it is a confirmation of the musical breadth and depth of Holland as an artist who can never be pigeonholed or labeled by a specific genre or style. This offering reunites Holland with the excellent, in some ways underappreciated, guitarist Kevin Eubanks and the stalwart drummer Obed Calvaire. Respected reviewer, Will Layman, said in Pop Matters, Another Land was “…the best new Holland recording in a long time.” Whether you are hip to Holland’s body of work or not, Another Land is one smokin’ album and is sure to delight.

Kevin Eubanks, Dave Holland and Obed Calvaire (photo credit unknown)

Another Land resurrects the fusion guitar trio format that Holland previously helped create with Gateway. Here, Holland is a more seasoned player who allows the compositions to speak for him. He still plays with impressive verve and allows his bandmates, especially Eubanks, yards of room to create, but there is a real cohesiveness on this album. The guitar is often out front here, but the bass and drums are equal co-conspirators that perform more organically, allowing the music to naturally unfold and blossom.

Kevin Eubanks first recorded with Holland back in 1990 on Extensions with Steve Coleman on alto and Marvin “Smitty” Smith on drums. The album was Downbeat’s 1990 Album of the Year.  Eubanks would go on to establish a more noticeable name for himself as the personable leader of the Tonight Show Band from 1995 to 2010. Eubanks has since released several albums like Zen Food and The Messenger where his extraordinary, uniquely sinewy guitar playing is testimony to his status as one of this era's best guitarists. 

On Another Land, “Grave Walker,” opens with an infectious electric bass line joined by the interweaving playing of Eubanks' slippery, serpentine guitar and anchored by Calvaire’s responsive but subtle drum work. There is a funky, rhythmic flow that anchors the music and forms an armature on which Eubanks explores and expands. Holland’s rich bass solo is always a treat to hear as it throbs, and sways, with Calvaire expertly propulsive.

The title cut, “Another Land,” has its own infectious bassline. Holland's double bass resonates, the rhythmic grab he establishes is a signature part of the bassist’s modus operandi. Eubanks overdubs his delicate acoustic with his sleek electric guitar lines that mesh gloriously. Eubank’s taste is gorgeous and restrained, stunningly sensitive, and superb. Holland's solo is a sonic splendor that combines creative ideas with wonderful tonal acuity. About halfway through the duo creating a dream-like landscape, Calvaire’s brushwork is heard ever so unobtrusively. This song can simply hypnotize you into a Zen-like state, a musical meditation.

“Gentle Warrior” is driven by a Holland ostinato bass line that morphs into a more robust melody line. Eubanks and Calvaire walk a conjoined line of sympathetic interaction until Holland produces a rousing double bass solo that throbs like a heart on adrenaline. Eubank’s guitar solo is explosive, modulating, a little frantic, and at times Hendrix-like, but always retains that watery, slinky sound that is all-Eubanks. Supporting the music with a subdued but driving accompaniment throughout, Calvaire at the coda provides his own cadenced drum feature that is, syncopated and inventive by this superb trap master.

There is a lot in this album to relish. The fusion-like “20-20” opens with a deeply resonating bowed bass from Holland and a gentle guitar accompaniment. The music then erupts into a heavy, almost metal-like theme. Holland plays some generous solos on double bass that are expansive and energized. Eubanks’ mastery of his guitar is impressive. He can wail, serpentinely modulate or embellish with delicately fingered filigree notes to the music. These three artists are so well matched with talent and can trace each other’s serpentine lines with effortless aplomb.

The gorgeous “Quiet Time” features Kevin Eubanks’solo guitar and is a testament to the guitarist’s ability to embellish on a beautiful theme unaccompanied. He can capture the listener unaccompanied, like many of the greats, with his tasteful virtuosity. Guitar lovers will cherish this masterful display of the man's sensitive side.

The rocker of this album is “Mashup,” a fusion, rock-driven, atomization. Calvaire’s drums dance and Holland’s electric bass punctuates with what sounds like a Stanley Clarke-like attack. Eubanks shreds in the most outer limits guitar work of the album. Eubanks has a wellspring of ideas and they all unfold with rapid-fire accuracy and magical slickness. Calvaire's fusillade of drum work at the coda is like a force of nature eruption.

“Passing Time” is a slow-paced, soulful saunter that leads off with a catchy, signature Holland bass line. All of Holland's compositions utilize unique and at times complex changes that simply raise the level of the songs to so much more than just catchy grooves. The trio uses the armature of the music and expands it to a vehicle of pure improvisational creation. Eubanks Latin-inspired guitar work sends the listener to another place and Holland’s solo is a lesson on how many rhythmic techniques on the bass strings can be used to be expressive.

The opening of “The Village” is a study on how creative musicians can evoke an aural scene by skillfully mixing sounds, not unlike a fine painter who mixes an array of colors on his palette to achieve his desired effect. Holland sets the feel with his ostinato bass lines, and Calvaire accentuates with his skillful rim and skin playing. Eubanks expertly modulates on his guitar and the three go off into the daylight toward the Village. Eventually, Eubanks’ guitar lines punch into the opening ahead with authority, before Holland’s bass seems to lead the group into a calmer clearing ahead. The music elevates the tension with Eubanks’ willy guitar lines and harshly accentuated chording. The music then raises the excitement with a series of climbing arpeggios and an explosive drum eruption by Calvaire at the coda.

This excellent album ends with “Bring It Back Home.” What better way than to end with a funky, blues-tinged shuffle that lowers the temperature of the set and introduces an overall feeling of contentment at returning home. A sonorant double bass in the hands of a master like Holland is the perfect vehicle to give this an authentic blues feel. Eubanks’ slithery guitar is a whole new level of funk and grit and the guitarist never ceases to find his own way of expression and surprise. Calvaire is like a reliable pacemaker, all though capable of volcanic flares, on this one stays the course in this classic groove. Amen. 

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