The sound of this group is different from other projects I’ve done previously. Most groups have featured horn players and I’ve rarely worked with keyboards in the band. But I wanted a different sound for this group and started thinking about a quartet with guitar, piano doubling on Fender Rhodes, bass and drums. That certainly has opened up some different musical directions.
Monster bassist, composer and bandleader Dave Holland is known the world over for his significant 1970s Bitches Brew with Miles Davis, his masterful ability to exact heavenly tone and rhythm, and his collaborative work incorporating horns into the mix.
Last summer, Holland switched it up with a new configuration, a departure from the horns, comprised of studious veterans in the music business, dear colleagues. In June of 2012, Prism’s Holland, Kevin Eubanks, Downbeat fave Craig Taborn, and multi-Grammy-nominated Eric Harland took to the stage at the TD Ottawa International Jazz Festival, introducing an exciting, fresh organic sound driven by guitar and keys. Holland explains the strange, new departure: “The sound of this group is different from other projects I’ve done previously. Most groups have featured horn players and I’ve rarely worked with keyboards in the band. But I wanted a different sound for this group and started thinking about a quartet with guitar, piano doubling on Fender Rhodes, bass and drums. That certainly has opened up some different musical directions.”
Then, on September 3, 2013, Prism released its self-titled debut album on Holland’s Dare2 Records, featuring the individual band members’ distinct contributions fused into a magical cohesion. Bandleader Holland likened the effect to the band’s perfect name, a prism. “I liked the image of a prism dividing light into spectrum of colors,” he explained. “A visual symbol of the one becoming many. The music being a unification of diverse parts.”
With long-time collaborator Eubanks (formerly the musical director of Jay Leno’s The Tonight Show) driving that soul-splitting guitar, Taborn riding shotgun on piano and Fender Rhodes, and Harland providing killer beats, Prism was on its way.
“Prism” is Holland’s first album in three years, combining effortless groove, hypnotic reverb, and flawless technique in a rocking avant-garde jazz make-up. It’s also the first time Holland got a dream band together inspired solely by musicians he’s felt a true kinship with.
Whatever happened next was icing. Colorful, textured icing. Once Holland and his friends started rehearsing, a pure, rich, original prism of sound resulted, startling them all. “It was part of the sound that I had imagined but it was only when we started rehearsing that the sound of the group really started to emerge,” Holland described. “It was interesting how the compositions that each of us brought to the group reflected different ideas for the direction that the music could take and together made for a complimentary collection.” Each artist brought a song to the table for the others to play with, and play with they did—all without gutting the flesh of the original intent.
Overall, Prism’s music borders on eclectic, electric rock-fusion, reminiscent – ironically – of Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew experimentation, touched with a little of the music of the earthly Jimi Hendrix-influenced early 1970s. But Prism isn’t an electric band. There’s a lot more going on than four guys getting off on a melody in a four-minute power pop.
Upon closer inspection, their touches remain firmly rooted in thoughtful, movement-oriented, harmony-smitten jazz – whether it’s Taborn’s fission take-off in “Evolution,” or Eubanks’ mesmerizing hook repeated on different levels in “The Watcher.” Clearly, melody is Prism’s plaything, slammed up against varying harmonic convergences painstakingly explored to the nth degree.
When Holland goes guitar, he really goes all out. The clear star in this record has to be Kevin Eubanks. The opening number is a fitting salvo for this hot, new band with something to say. “The Watcher” manages to blend a funky, rocking hook throughout a traffic of angular, spiraled intersections. It’s as if Eubanks is cutting a swath through a mountainous, jazz rainforest, climbing higher and higher.
Craig Taborn’s “Spirals” really delves into the lighter avant-garde treatment, dancing around on tiptoes through these tricky steps, as his fellow musicians guard against any of them going too far over that melodic drift. The way Taborn slams on the pretty and the dark in the simultaneous replay of chord and discordant, while Eubanks echoes the minor notes like a crazy man, is the kind of textbook experimental that always stop short of uncontrolled noise. Nobody takes the easy way out here. The melody stays stuck in the crevices of even the deepest departures—dig the way Taborn forays at the 8:46 mark, raining two preludes down in a provocative fight for lucidity.
Holland jumps his bass intro for full minute in another Taborn classic, “The True Meaning Of Determination,” a study in piano releasing the clutch. Taborn charges through a traffic of obstruction, making total sense. Eubanks halfway into the song obliterates the competition entirely in a series of unconventional harmonic bends, as drummer Harland eggs him along in explosively timed bursts.
“Evolution” by Eubanks is what happens when rock gets a hold of jazz in all the right places. The soul is in the hammer of bass on top of guitar on top of percussion, scratching blindly for a firm grip. The most sophisticated rendering of a scale, featuring potent guitar and hard-hitting beats. Eubanks drags his notes up from the muck with hypnotic melody in a handful of phrases as the drummer burns triggers up the sides.
Jazz grew some balls.