Recordings of April 1996: Ones All & A Time Remembered

Dave Holland, acoustic bass
Intuition INT 21482 (CD only). Dave Holland, Clare Holland, prods.; James Farber, eng. AAD. TT: 57:27

ART DAVIS: A Time Remembered
Art Davis, acoustic bass; Ravi Coltrane, tenor & soprano sax; Herbie Hancock, piano; Marvin "Smitty" Smith, drums
Classic/Jazz Planet 4001-1 (LP), JPCD-5001-2 (CD*). John Koenig, prod.; Rik Pekkonen, eng. AAA/AAD. TTs: 45:00, 69:06*

These new albums are both led by their bass players, and both are quintessential paradigms of their respective genres. Dave Holland invents a new genre and Art Davis perfects an old one.

In jazz, the primary role of the bass is to mark the beat. To justify an entire solo album, a bassist must be more than a technical virtuoso. He must be a singer touched with a grace that transcends the limitations of his instrument's voice. Dave Holland is such a singer. He commands an intonation so rich and exact, and has such astonishing speed, that by the first track ("Homecoming") you've lost the sense that there's anything foreign about Holland's chosen language. The third song, "Goodbye Porkpie Hat," is one of the permanent eulogies in the jazz canon. It was written in 1959, on the day Lester Young died, by another great bass player, Charles Mingus. Holland quakes the famous theme, then meditates over it like the slowest of prayers, every note's long vibrato a mourning for a tragedy sustained by us all.

John Coltrane's "Mr. P.C." is a line that hundreds of horn players have used as a basis for blowing. Holland propels it ever onward at the bottom, but on top he runs the changes with complex variations, and no saxophone ever blew it better. The last piece, "God Bless The Child," stays faithful to Billie Holiday's melody. Yet Holland gets closer to the song's spiritual truth than any singer but one: the composer herself.

Ones All was recorded with a single AKG stereo tube microphone. Engineer James Farber is not interested in providing a demonstration record for subwoofers, but in capturing all the emotional and musical depth of a moment in time. He succeeds. Ones All is a recording with majesty.

A Time Remembered is something almost as rare: a small-group studio session magically lit from within by inspiration, from first note to last. The feeling of heightened creativity is supported by an unforgettable sonic portrait of an acoustic jazz ensemble: crystalline yet palpable, precisely etched yet warm.

Art Davis—master bassist, Ph.D. (in clinical psychology), and keeper of the flame—has assembled a world-class cross-generational quartet. There are floating atmospheres like Billy Strayhorn's "A Flower is a Lovesome Thing," and there are anthems like John Coltrane's "Olé" which gather like a storm and provoke John's son Ravi to rain torrents of passion from his soprano saxophone. Herbie Hancock (on a sonorous 1940s-era Steinway) does something unexpected on every tune, comping and filling like pinpoints of light, paying out solos like cascades of poetry.

But the revelation of A Time Remembered is Ravi Coltrane. He shapes endless ideas to lyrical elegance, even on the fly. Listen to his subtle permutations of Cole Porter's "Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye," and to the way he slides off Monk's "Evidence" yet still comes down on the accents.

The CD is so good that the sonic advantages of the LP do not make it worth losing 24 minutes of great music, not to mention enduring the outrageous inconvenience of vinyl. But for you 'philes in your hair shirts, your narrator, a CD collector, will cop to it: the LP has a little more sweetness and air when Smith's brushes strike his cymbals.—Thomas Conrad