Two weeks ago we brought you an elite trio led by Chris Potter and now we bring another on the same label, Edition, as legendary bassist Dave Holland fronts his trio of well-known masters of their respective instruments with guitarist Kevin Eubanks and drummer Obed Calvaire. Theirs is a potent combination of pulsating funk, fusion jazz, blues-inflected rock, and gorgeous, simmering ballads. The trio has mastered these tunes through many live shows which were often played as continuous, combustible sets.
Holland has long been considered one of the most forward-thinking, experimental bassists, breaking new ground for the acoustic double bass and electric bass beginning in the late ’60s. He’s most associated with Miles Davis’ In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew period, over 50 years ago. Since then, Holland has long been a staple of ECM and, not counting sideman duties, has released an album practically every year since. He’s also considered a renowned composer and has won Grammy nominations and Awards across several configurations from quartets to octets to big bands. The trio format, though, has long defined some of his most memorable recordings. Formed in 1975, the Gateway Trio of Jack DeJohnette and John Abercrombie recorded for 25 years. More recently Holland was integral to the Crosscurrents Trio with saxophonist Chris Potter and drummer Zakir Hussein (Good Hope) as well as a trio with pianist Kenny Barron and drummer Johnathan Blake (Without Deception).
Holland and Eubanks (yes, the former bandleader of The Tonight Show) have a shared history that includes 2013’s Prism on Holland’s own Dare2 label and 1990’s ECM Extensions. Drummer Calvaire is highly sought after, playing in the SF Jazz Collective, the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, and many other settings, but relatively new to Holland’s expansive circle.
At this point, three singles have been released – the opening funk-laden “Grave Walker,” the dreamy, gorgeous title track, and the explosive “Mashup,” a showcase for each member but especially Calvaire. The format, of course, allows each of these masters to play expansive, abstract solos. In several spots, such as the latter, it may sound like three cutting their own individual paths, but somehow their interplay is both tight and loose, forming a cohesive unit. “Gentle Warrior” begins with Holland’s robust toned acoustic bass before Eubanks leads in lyrically, which Holland matches in his own melodic take. Eubanks then goes a frenetic fiery flight, spurred on by Calvaire’s insistent patterns and on-the-spot cymbal crashes that morph into bigger, more focused statements as the piece winds down.
The intro to “20 20” is quieter, more contemplative in tone before Holland sets a fusion-like riff on his electric bass as the group ebbs and flows exploratively, seemingly unwilling to settle into a themed pattern but intermittent explosive exchanges instead. Some of these include Hendrix-like sustained notes by Eubanks and elongated, articulate picking by Holland while Calvaire skitters all over his kit. “Quiet Fire” lives up to its title, a shining example of how the trio can play with utmost restraint, when called for, the accent on Eubanks’ lovely guitar tone. “Passing Time” is another gentle, explorative piece, evoking some of Holland’s work with his long-running Gateway Trio. The leader’s mid-section bass solo and interplay with Calvaire highlight the piece, which extends into funky riffing toward its close.
Calvaire stirs up a ruckus before Eubanks enters with a few searing guitar lines in the opening to “Village,” which evolves into a blistering fusion piece with dramatic dynamic changes that keep the listener guessing. This is the trio setting off fireworks, each at their explosive best before it dissolves quietly. “Bring It Back Home’ does indeed take us to the close with emphatic punctuated rather than free-flowing statements from bot. Eubanks and Holland while Calvaire doesn’t drive and instead mostly supports on this one until the latter part which mixes in some funk.
These are three masters at work. The clarity of the recording allows the listener to easily focus on each member as well as the pieces themselves. Eubanks soulful, judicious note choices, Holland’s robust tones and rhythmic lines, and Calvaire’s energetic, steady, and at times explosive presence is a marriage of heavyweights, echoing strains of Hendrix, McLaughlin, early Holland Gateway Trio work as well as his pairings with Eubanks, and the best of ‘70s fusion. These three prove that the fusion idiom is very much alive.