REVIEW: Dave Holland’s Prism at Ronnie Scott’s

Dave Holland
Photo credit: Ben Amure

Dave Holland’s Prism
(Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club, 7th July 2014. Review by Michael Underwood)

Dave Holland’s Prism took to the stage at Ronnie Scott’s last night to deliver a breathtakingly audacious performance. The set they performed felt far shorter than the two hours it was.

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Dave Holland’s bass harmonic tuning notes led into the first piece of the gig – his composition entitled A New Day. Free improvisation merged into a groove in five featuring rock-inspired guitar, a nifty pentatonic bass solo from Holland and a fascinatingly modest drum solo. The minutiae of their interplay displayed an almost telepathic relationship between the musicians on stage. The amount of playing this group has done together clearly shows – their musical bonds are so strong that anything is possible. The music they create is like a raffle in which everything and anything is constantly up for grabs.

Guitarist Kevin Eubanks was responsible for more of the compositions played on the gig than the other band-members. Evolution consisted of an ethereal, meandering introduction leading into a driving bass groove. Twelvish Breach opened with a musical conversation between Holland and Eubanks which descended into a complex rocky feel building to an arousing cacophony of sound. One of the most amazing things about this band is that they don’t start grooves, they find them.

Eubanks’ third composition The Watcher featured as the encore, encouraged by a transfixed audience. The often simple grooves are extremely engaging and let any listener in. I think the lack of a front line player in this group is one of its biggest advantages. All the players have the potential to solo or to be in the background and this gives their music an incredible amount of unity.

With all the pieces on this gig, the bass groove was the foundation of everything. Always having one element as a constant creates an amazing amount of freedom for the ensemble to explore.Dave Holland displayed his true mastery of his instrument joyously throughout the gig. He cares about every single note he plays.

Drummer Eric Harland  has a clever ability to manage timbres and textures and to exhibit real continuity in his playing. He constantly plays around with the time whilst the ensemble stays solid. The highlight of the gig was a Dave Holland composition called The Empty Chair. Beginning with a solo bass intro full of steel string guitar-inspired slides, a bluesy 6/8 groove began with the deepest of personalities. The amount of space created through minimal playing on a groove was an incredible feat which left me with immense sense of musical satisfaction alongside utter wonder for what I was hearing. Eubanks provided a masterclass in respectful and careful distortion, giving his modern take on blues greats combined with clear influences from guitarists such as John Scofield and John McLaughlin. One of Eubanks’ fine traits is his use of a volume pedal which generates immense amounts of drama in his often rock-like playing.

Pianist/keyboardist Craig Taborn displayed dynamism and fresh creativity on every piece, in particular Eric Harland’s composition Breathe, which gave him the opportunity to deliver a remarkably enthralling piano introduction. Strikingly pianistic and full of colour, this delectable offering allowed a moment of respite away from the energetic grooves. The intro gave way to the exquisite display of group improvisation over a sea of ballad-like brushwork.

Taborn’s only composition of the night The True Meaning of Determination began with a unison groove slowly transforming into a contrapuntal and fugal display of intertwining lines. In this band, soloing is like a baton race; the musicians are never soloing for themselves, they solo for the band.

Dave Holland’s Prism provided a musical meal of Michelin star quality. Playing with the utmost sense of freedom, their masterful musicianship combined with fascinating interplay made it clear that there are no boundaries for this band. Like a shapeshifter, they can utilise any genre with each player finding his own space to express his voice. Jaw-dropping is appropriate to describe this gig: my jaw stayed dropped from the first note to the last.

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