Jazz CD Reviews
Prism – Prism – Dare2 Records
Published on October 2, 2013
Prism – Prism – Dare2 Records [Distr. by Redeye] DR2-007, 70:00 [9/3/13] ***1/2:
(Dave Holland – bass, producer; Craig Taborn – piano, Fender Rhodes; Kevin Eubanks – guitar; Eric Harland – drums)
Bassist Dave Holland has been around long enough to tell a tale or three. Forty years ago Holland debuted as a leader with the quartet outing, Conference of the Birds. Before that, he was with Miles Davis (Holland contributed to Filles de Kilimanjaro, In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew). After that came a stint in avant-garde jazz group Circle with Chick Corea, Barry Altschul and Anthony Braxton, and an extensive musical relationship with multi-instrumentalist Sam Rivers.
Over the years, Holland has embraced different musical directions which range from solo performance to big band; as a sideman he’s been involved in pop, rock and avant-garde endeavors. Holland’s latest band is Prism, a quartet which concentrates on old-school fusion. Front and center is guitarist Kevin Eubanks, whose affiliation with Holland dates to the late 1980s (Eubanks appears on Holland’s 1989 record, Extensions). Holland approached Eubanks first and after he said yes, Holland recruited drummer Eric Harland, who worked with Holland in the Monterey Quartet (he’s also on Holland’s 2008 release, Pass It On); and keyboardist Craig Taborn (who uses both acoustic piano and Fender Rhodes on the new Prism project). Taborn has shared the stage with Holland a number of times over the past few years.
Prism’s 70-minute, self-titled debut (issued via Holland’s imprint, Dare2 Records) has nine tracks with visceral moods: three by Eubanks; two by Holland; two by Taborn; and two by Harland. Eubanks is the most visible: his amped six-strings craft myriad chromatic patterns, aggressive lines, stimulating grooves and searing solos. He and Taborn forcefully process their instruments, resulting in sometimes declarative or fuzzy tones which help define this band’s sound. The effect can be heard on the opener, Eubank’s funk-rocker “The Watcher,” where distorted guitar and woozy Rhodes ride atop Holland and Harland’s bedrock rhythm. Taborn and Eubanks slip in darker coloring on Eubanks’ dimly-lit, nighttime ballad “The Color of Iris,” which eddies and swirls in a slow curve highlighted by Eubanks’ weaving guitar and Taborn’s tuneful acoustic piano: he masterfully mixes rhythm, melody and soloing. Eubank’s impressive “Evolution” (at over ten minutes, also the longest track) commences with a carefully controlled performance, but eventually escalates to a couple of hard rock, Led Zeppelin-esque sections where Eubanks includes prominent Jeff Beck-meets-John McLaughlin soloing.
Taborn’s contributions are also intriguing. The lengthy “Spirals” moves dramatically through changing stages, from groove-based to avant-garde, with elevating guitar lines, multi-hued piano chords and Holland’s edgy bass, as Harland employs splashy cymbals and vivid fills. There’s a similar progression during “The True Meaning of Determination,” which has both an all-hands and a single-player manner. Holland initially has the focus with a bass introduction which showcases his melodic technique, and then drums and piano join the cadenced venture, and Eubanks then enters the fray with his slightly singed guitar: his lines are on occasion doubled by Taborn, but more often Eubanks shreds while the others lay back a bit. When Taborn undertakes the spotlight, he skips and flies across the keyboard with metrical glee, chopping up the beat with Harland. At the end, everybody drives the head into a euphoric conclusion. Harland’s pieces are the shortest and most spiritual. The swinging, bop-inclined “Choir” reveals his religious background (he studied theology and is an ordained minister). The catchy theme is full of joie de vivre and teems with spontaneous looseness. At the opposite side of the auditory spectrum is the closer, “Breathe,” an aptly-named ballad where open space and lingering vulnerability are significant: Taborn adds beautiful piano passages, Harland applies unhurried cymbal washes, Holland’s fingers gracefully slide along the bass fretboard, and Eubanks harnesses his guitar’s atmospheric tonality. If this tune has an associated color, it would be a deep fluid red.
On the other hand, blue is most definitely the shade for Holland’s heartfelt “The Empty Chair (For Clare),” dedicated to Holland’s late wife Clare, who died in September 2011. This soulful, electric blues hints at Jimi Hendrix’s sensitive aspects (think “The Wind Cries Mary”) particularly due to Eubank’s intensity, which is accentuated by Taborn’s correspondingly soulful Fender. Hendrix rarely included keyboards in his arrangements, but the kind of guitar and organ interplay presented here would have functioned well. Holland’s solo bass exploration is the emotional centerpiece. Holland’s other composition, “A New Day,” is a compelling, upbeat example of his ability to create positive energy, and alludes to the warming, yellowing dawn after an azure evening sadness. Prism is an album of vibrant and democratic music, with acutely entrusted work from four masterful artists with strong sympathy.
TrackList: The Watcher; The Empty Chair (For Clare); Spirals; Choir; The Color of Iris; A New Day; The True Meaning of Determination; Evolution; Breathe.