On these two discs you’ll find masterfully played, engaging excursions into the tonal beyond.
Uncharted Territories, Dave Holland – Bass; Evan Parker – Tenor Sax; Craig Taborn – Piano, Keyboards, Organ and Electronics; Ches Smith – Percussion. (Dare 2)
By Steve Feeney
The last time I saw bassist Dave Holland perform, he was fronting a high-energy big band at Birdland in NYC. As with every time I’ve seen him, he appeared to be having a hell of a good time. His surging, post-bop music overflowed with energy and spirit.
The 71-year-old ex-patriot Englishman’s latest album moves a bit more deeply into a much denser thicket. Uncharted Territories certainly rivals (and references) his seminal Conference of the Birds from 1972. But the album is not so much a return to form as a late-style excursion into regions unknown, the Terra incognita suggested by the album’s title.
A good part of the tension and grit this new release evinces is supplied by veteran saxophonist Evan Parker (74), a stalwart British free jazz improvisor with whom Holland worked very early in his career. The two were originally going to do a duet recording, but Holland decided to expand these 2017 sessions by adding relative youngsters Craig Taborn on keyboards and Ches Smith on percussion.
What Holland designates as settings for “open form improvisation” are explored in solo, duo, trio, and quartet episodes that maintain interest despite their fragmentary nature. Drop your beam anywhere on these twenty-three cuts spread over two discs and you’ll find masterfully played, engaging excursions into the tonal beyond.
All but three of the tracks are designated by detailing the instrumentation, day recorded, and take number. Of the three titled pieces, Smith’s “Thought On Earth” is a momentum-building rumble; its four-way collaboration epitomizes how on this disc the musicians’ mission is to reach for a level beyond — but not totally hostile to — the concept of harmony. His “Unsteady As She Goes” initially sets ominous timpani rolls against Parker’s skittish tenor sax riffs. Then Taborn, with a touch of electronics (which he adds on several cuts), intimates what is taking place beneath the surface.
Holland’s “Q&A” revisits a piece on Conference of the Birds. This version lacks the original’s flute and clarinet interplay of Sam Rivers and Anthony Braxton, but it is more efficient — it takes about half the time to unravel the tune’s way-past-bop identity.
In the funk-up “Bass-Percussion T1” Holland and Smith are eager to catch and release the other’s tail. “Bass-Percussion T2” ventures into more exotic reaches; Smith’s bent gong and rim tappings are followed by cymbal splashes over the bassist’s suggestions of several possible rhythms.
“Organ-Vibes W1” pairs Taborn with Smith; they poke around and about a spacious, electronically-enhanced realm, marked by edgy overtones and science-fiction melodramatics. Parker duets with Holland on three pieces. “Tenor-Bass W3” sets the bassist’s arco scrapings against the saxophonist’s rambling dialogue. Parker manages to rev up a little more agitation on “Tenor-Piano-Percussion T1” — Smith pulls the threesome off-center.
The five untitled quartet tracks bring all the album’s free form ingredients together in exemplary ways. “QW5” generates an anxious feel that Taborn and Parker seem particularly comfortable with. “QW2” begins with a sax flutter that quickly departs, almost as if the point is to first seek for a melody and then become frustrated by its illusiveness.
A musical search without a clear vision of where it is headed; this is a highly rewarding quest for unmapped sonic lands — with these adventurous musicians at the helm.
Steve Feeney is a Maine native and attended schools in Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts. He has a Master of Arts Degree in American and New England Studies from the University of Southern Maine. He began reviewing music on a freelance basis for the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram in 1995. He was later asked to also review theater and dance. Recently, he has added BroadwayWorld.com as an outlet and is pleased to now contribute to Arts Fuse.