Monday, May 20, 2019

Dave Holland - 1990 "Extensions"

Extensions is an album by jazz bassist Dave Holland released on the ECM label in 1990. The record is Dave Holland's eighth album to be released on the ECM label. It features two members of his previous quintet—Steve Coleman and Marvin "Smitty" Smith—alongside guitarist Kevin Eubanks, in his first appearance on a Dave Holland record. Holland reprised his tune "Processional", first recorded on this album, on his later sextet album Pass It On.

Dave Holland has commanded such respect at the very top levels of American jazz, thanks only in part to his work, beginning in the late 1960s, with Miles Davis and then Anthony Braxton, Chick Corea, and Sam Rivers. As that list suggests, the Englishman set out on his fascinating jazz voyage with some of the best, and he has managed, as a leader, always to gather instrumentalists who, while not necessarily the best-known names, have consistently been extraordinarily talented. That is sparklingly the case here. On such tracks as "Nemesis," which starts as a fairly straight-ahead, funk-vamp piece, both alto saxophonist Steve Coleman and electric guitarist Kevin Eubanks elevate the music with stunning performances. The imagination, vigor, and rhythmic variation of their work--not to mention just the sheer amount of music they generate moment to moment--at times beggars comprehension. The music seems to gush and tumble forth from the interior of such tunes. That effect is, perhaps, the Holland hallmark, and it is amply exemplified here.

For this tight and enjoyable quartet date, bassist Dave Holland spread the composing opportunities around, his sidemen accounting for four of the six pieces. Arguably, none of these musicians ever sounded better, or more adventurous, than when performing in Holland's bands. While the leader himself retreated a good deal from his more routinely avant-garde recordings of the '70s, he appeared unwilling to allow his younger compadres to simply coast, instead evoking probing and thoughtful playing from them. Altoist Steve Coleman derives particular benefit from Holland's supervision, sounding far more fluid and confident than own his own rather more stilted albums.

The pieces follow a general head-solos-head format, though with substantial elasticity and enough variation that no sense of sameness settles in. Holland, of course, is masterful throughout, and one can easily imagine simply listening exclusively to his basslines, the amazing imagination they convey, and being very satisfied. One of his better albums from this period, Extensions should please any Holland fan, and is an agreeable and non-threatening jumping in point for the curious.

Dave Holland's "Extensions" is a notable exception, delivering intelligent, upbeat, post bop jazz with real power, remaining close enough to the jazz tradition to have lasting relevance.

The band - Steve Coleman (alto sax), Kevin Eubanks (guitar), Dave Holland (bass) and Marvin "Smitty" Smith (drums) - delivers rock-inspired energy spiraling off Marvin "Smitty" Smith's upfront drumming and Kevin Eubanks' impressive guitar playing. Steve Coleman brings his deep-rooted jazz sensibility and intelligence to bear, blowing solos of real creativity. Dave Holland's base forms a solid yet agile centre around which the music can flow. Despite the ECM label, this is high octane, full-blooded jazz by any other name.

"Nemesis" and "Color Of Mind", the two Kevin Eubanks compositions, open and close the album. The Kevin Eubanks solo on "Nemesis" is worthy of special attention. "Color Of Mind" is uptempo and angular.

"Processional" and "The Oracle" are both compositions by Dave Holland. These are more introspective and provide clear space for Steve Coleman, Dave Holland and Kevin Eubanks to solo expressively. "The Oracle" makes the most concession to ECM taste with 'African-sounding' guitar effects and rhythms but this is a small price to pay for the excellence of the music throughout.

Meanwhile, Steve Coleman also provides two compositions, "Black Hole" and "101 Degrees Fahrenheit (Slow Meltdown)" that get down to the essence of jazz. "Black Hole" is bluesy, funky and lowdown while "101 Degrees Fahrenheit (Slow Meltdown)" is ballad-like and sinewy.

Track listing:

    "Nemesis" (Kevin Eubanks) - 11:31
    "Processional" (Dave Holland) - 7:16
    "Black Hole" (Steve Coleman) - 10:10
    "The Oracle" (Dave Holland) - 14:32
    "101° Fahrenheit (Slow Meltdown)" (Steve Coleman) - 4:50
    "Color of Mind" (Kevin Eubanks) - 10:11

Recorded September 1989, Power Station, New York


    Steve Coleman – alto saxophone
    Kevin Eubanks – electric guitar
    Dave Holland – double bass
    Marvin "Smitty" Smith – drums

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Michael Brecker - 1988 "Don't Try This At Home"

Don't Try This at Home is the second album by American jazz saxophonist Michael Brecker, that was released on Impulse! records in 1988. In 1989, the album won a Grammy Award for Best Improvised Jazz Solo.

Michael Brecker's second album as a leader is almost the equal of his first. Surprisingly, only one song ("Suspone") uses his working quintet of the period (which consists of guitarist Mike Stern, pianist Joey Calderazzo, bassist Jeff Andrews and drummer Adam Nussbaum) although those musicians also pop up on other selections with the likes of pianists Don Grolnick and Herbie Hancock, bassist Charlie Haden, drummer Jack DeJohnette and violinist Mark O'Connor. Brecker (on tenor and the EWI) is in superb form, really ripping into the eight pieces (mostly group originals). Recommended.

This is the album that made me want to play jazz. It's a fantastic album, but it's definitely a product of its time. All of the people complaining about the use of the EWI fail to take into account that this album was made in 1987, and the EWI was accepted as a good instrument for fusion playing. Yes, it sounds a bit dated now, but at the time, it was a revelation. And for all of you who think that the EWI sucks, go try and play one. It's very difficult, much more so than a standard tenor saxophone, so it makes the playing that much more remarkable.

Mr. Brecker's playing is absolutely mind-boggling on this CD. The opening track, "Itsbynne Reel" incorporates Irish folk music and an absolutely incredible solo. His use of the "super mixolydian" mode and phrasing put his playing a few levels above most of his contemporaries.

If you are one of those people that either subscribe to the Wynton Marsalis theory of jazz ("Swing+Blues=Jazz") or are only interested in the "head/solo/head/end" hard bop style of, say, Joe Lovano or Jerry Bergonzi, should probably look elsewhere. This is a Fusion album, and should be looked at as such.

From the first track, with the EWi instrument emulating bagpipes to the Monk like final track, this terrific album combines Brecker's incredibly creative, complex magnifcently skilled Coltrane like solos with a great ensemble that, often creates a big band sound, particularly on the seventh track, with its freedom song type basic lines combined with Brecker's magnificent solos. This album was an earlier demonstration of why the meaningful history of late modern jazz csn virtually start and stop with Micheal Brecker.

Track listing:

  1.  "Itsbynne Reel" (Michael Brecker, Don Grolnick) – 7:41
  2.  "Chime This" (Grolnick) – 7:50
  3.  "Scriabin" (Vince Mendoza) – 4:59
  4.  "Suspone" (Mike Stern) – 4:59
  5.  "Don't Try This at Home" (Brecker, Grolnick) – 9:30
  6.  "Everything Happens When You're Gone" (Brecker) – 7:11
  7.  "Talking to Myself" (Grolnick) – 5:10
  8.  "The Gentleman & Hizcaine" (Jim Beard) – 5:19


    Michael Brecker – tenor saxophone, EWI
    Herbie Hancock – piano
    Joey Calderazzo – piano
    Don Grolnick – piano
    Jim Beard – synthesizer, piano
    Judd Miller – synthesizer
    Mike Stern – guitar
    Mark O'Connor – violin
    Charlie Haden – bass
    Jeff Andrews – bass
    Jack DeJohnette – drums
    Peter Erskine – drums
    Adam Nussbaum – drums