Dave Holland - :rarum X (2004)
By Mark Saleski
During the first year or so of my post-college life, I developed a habit of visiting my local record shop every Saturday afternoon (it goes without saying that I already had this habit, maybe not so firmly attached to a particular day). It was an unassuming little store hiding in a nondescript strip mall. Nothin' special, really ... but it was my store.
Now, this was before I got the full-on jazz bug. My prize jazz record at the time was probably Chuck Mangione's Feels So Good. The most adventurous thing in my collection was Oxygene by Jean Michel Jarre. Weird? Yes. Jazz? Nope.
On one particular weekend, we had a college pal visiting us. The only thing better than a solo pass through the vinyl bins is a tag team effort. Oh yes, we did some mighty damage. Two of the records that Gene picked up were George Thorogood's Bad To The Bone and Chick Corea's A.R.C. Before he left on Sunday afternoon, I made myself a nice tape of those two albums (back then just about everybody had a decent tape deck, standard issue equipment along with that Maxell wind-tunnel" poster).
It sure was fun to pop that tape into my car's deck. Especially the Thorogood side. Many an after work drive home was kicked off with Thorogood channeling Chuck Berry on the song Back To Wentzville." As the mid-1980's economy boomed though, my commute began to involve serious amounts of stop and go.
It also began to involve side two of that tape.
I have no idea why my buddy bought that particular Corea record. It made it onto my my tape because it was one of the strangest things I'd ever heard. At times it sounds like the musicians are just trying to make each other laugh. At other times, it was like they were trying to annoy the upstairs neighbors. I was fascinated. You just would not think that a piano, acoustic bass and drums could make such a racket.
The tune (if you want to call it that) from A.R.C. that struck me right between the ears was the title track. It started with this furious bass line that made me think of an animal scrambling up a tree. That line was used as motif for the early part of the composition ... until the free improv cats-on-piano fun took over.
That bass line introduction was played by a guy named Dave Holland. Even though it took me several more years to fully embrace that particular style of music, that name stuck with me. I figured that if five seconds of solo bass was that interesting there just had to be more to look forward to.
Well, my ears did not fail me. As I learned more about jazz and improvised music I discovered that this Holland character had contributed to some amazing recordings: Filles de Kilimanjaro, In A Silent Way, Bitches Brew.
Holland went on to have an equally interesting solo (and collaborative) career with ECM records. The list of musicians he's recorded with is a long and impressive one. To name just a few: Jack DeJohnette, John Abercombie, Kenny Wheeler, Charles Lloyd, Pat Metheny, Anthony Braxton, Cassandra Wilson.
For his ECM :rarum collection Holland chose to focus on his work as bandleader. Not a bad thing, really, as he has produced a quite amazing and varied body of sound. The lineups on :rarum X include solo (cello!), two trios, five quintets and three quartets.
A couple of my favorites:
Inception," from Life Cycle. A solo cello record that needs to be in your collection!
Conference of the Birds," from Holland's very first leader date. The personnel is incredible: Sam Rivers (flute), Barry Altshul (marimba, percussion) and Anthony Braxton on soprano sax. Now that I think of it, you need this one in your collection too!
Of course then you'll have to get Circle. A record he did with Corea, Altshul and Braxton. If you enjoy that one you're definitely on the jazz slippery slope. You've been warned. If you're into jazz and haven't heard of Dave Holland you owe it to yourself to give :rarum X a listen. Your eyes (and ears) will open wide.
I still find myself gravitating toward the record shop on Saturday afternoons. The flame that was lit back in 1984 is still burning.
It's all Dave Holland's fault.
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