Double bassist Dave Holland has been around. Over a career that has spanned through five decades, he has played with many of the biggest names in jazz: Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Chick Corea, Betty Carter, Herbie Hancock, to name only a few. He has worked with them in their ensembles. He has been the leader of his own. His first working quintet was formed back in 1983, his latest, Prism, is a quartet formed in in 2012.
Featuring Kevin Eubanks on guitar, Craig Taborn on piano and Fender Rhodes, and Eric Harland on drums, the quartet’s line-up is something of a departure for the British born bassist. “The sound of this group,” he explains, “is different from other projects I’ve done previously. Most groups have featured horn players and I’ve rarely worked with keyboards in the band.” This was a group of musicians put together to mold a different sound, one that would open up “some different musical directions.”
They began by playing at a variety of festivals, and now they have released Prism, their self-titled debut album. It is a collection of nine pieces, all composed by the members of the band; three by Eubanks, and two each by the other three musicians. In this way each artist is given the opportunity to express his own “creative individuality,” and the project serves to create a unity from the different voices.
They open with a funky Eubanks’ piece, “The Watcher.” Holland’s “The Empty Chair (for Clare),” a blues number, follows. The two pieces fairly define the group dynamic right from the start. They have found a unique contemporary sound, and a format that gives each of these all-stars a chance to show what they can do.
Taborn’s “Spirals” begins as a swinging melody, but quickly takes on an otherworldly spacey vibe. Harland’s “Choir” starts with a drum solo and then puts Taborn to work on the piano and Fender. It is a wild, rocking piece. It contrasts with Eubanks’ introspective atmospheric “The Color of Iris,” as well as the eloquent “Breathe,” the Harlan composition that closes the album. “The Meaning of Determination,” the other Taborn piece opens with a short solo from Holland before you get some interesting passages from both the composer and Eubanks. “A New Day” and “Evolution” round out the set.
The contemporary sound Prism is going after may take some time for some listeners to buy into. But play the album a few times. Give it a shot and you might find yourself wondering how your initial reaction could have been so wrong. I must say that was what happened to me.