The British-born bass player Dave Holland’s recent own-name albums include free improv with a starry transatlantic band and tough contemporary quartet jazz featuring sax and guitar.
At this gig, he explored the nooks and crannies of piano trio jazz with Kenny Barron, who launched his career with trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie shortly before Holland joined Miles Davis in 1968. Barron’s regular drummer, Johnathan Blake, was the third and equal partner. The trio’s focused intimacy and theme-and-variation approach were established with the first notes of the Thelonious Monk rarity “Worry Later”. Barron’s melody twinned clarity with harmonic nous, Holland marked the form with firm counterpoint underneath, and drummer Blake hinted at Latin jazz. Barron’s first variation smoothed out the angles of Monk’s niggly theme; the second reintroduced them as dissonant twiddles over angular stride. Fluent bursts dominated the third, and the fourth introduced the distinctive left-hand bass of Cuban jazz. A dozen dense, detailed choruses later, Holland took the lead and matched Barron’s invention, following the form and making every note count. “Second Thoughts” came next, upbeat and modal with a passage of mid-tempo swing. Here the trio’s narrative arc moved inexorably from solo bass to intense piano high, before fading on the theme. Drummer Blake set up Holland’s New Orleans-flavoured original “Pass it On” with a cross-stitch weave of fractured press rolls, staggered bass drum thumps and splashed cymbals. Barron engaged the crowd with two-handed intricacy and fluent lines, Holland with bluesy twangs and Blake with rhythmic panache. But it was the way the three combined that held the attention. Barron’s multi-faceted approach was matched by Holland avoiding the obvious without losing sight of the tune, and Blake’s rhythms inspired rather than intruded. The result was a performance packed with detail and strong in narrative drive. The set initially expanded on compositions from the trio’s newly released album Without Deception, and Ellington’s rhapsodic ballad “Warm Valley” came near the end of the set. But elsewhere, the trio cast a wider net. The late Kenny Wheeler waltz “Mabel” delivered impressionism and warmth, and Charlie Parker’s bop oddity “Segment” had fluent lines and strong walking bass. The finale, “The Theme”, combined tricky counterpoint and headlong modern jazz. Holland said he learnt the piece at the soundcheck, but you would never have guessed. The full first house demanded one more, and eventually it came: Monk’s “In Walked Bud” — a jazz repertory classic reborn.
Pianist Kenny Barron and bassist Dave Holland have covered a vast amount of sonic terrain throughout their brilliant careers. On Without Deception, they co-lead a trio that includes the spectacular drummer Johnathan Blake, pairing versatility and musicianship in a collection of originals and shrewdly chosen covers that feels like an expansion of their conversational duo album The Art of Conversation (Impulse! Records, 2014).
Barron-penned “Porto Alegre” opens the album with a lovely bossa groove that relies on Blake’s hot snare tones to make the rhythm even more attractive. Besides revealing a strong unity, the three musicians enchant with personal statements abundant in rich idioms. Carrying something of Jobim, “Until Then” offers another alluring canvas painted with elegant bossa nova colors, while on the title track and “Speed Trap”, also written by Barron, the trio delivers the goods with a different posture. While the former is a winsome 12-bar blues with plenty of blue notes and feel-good trading fours, the latter connects bass and drums in a spiraling swinging verve, and channels streams of cascading piano notes through it. Barron’s flagrant rhythmic figures easily evolve into smart lines that prompt the drummer to respond, and Holland employs irresistible slides and wise interval hops to complement his forward-moving pizzicato.
The post-bop lyricism evinced on Mulgrew Miller’s “Second Thoughts” made me think of that special vibe found on Barron’s staggering album Scratch (Enja, 1985), released 35 years ago and on which Holland also performed.
Though “Secret Places” waltzes with the poignancy of Bill Evans, it develops with the tender touch of Barron, differing from the groove-centric irreverence of “Pass It On”, a composition by Holland that first saw the light of day on his 2008 sextet album of the same name. Showing off his monster technique, the bassist is both the glue that holds everything together and the booster this music needs to flow ahead. Blake’s terrific wallops and Barron’s linear tangents contribute to the positive effect.
The renditions of Duke Ellington’s “Warm Valley” and Thelonious Monk’s “Worry Later” head straight for their original musical splendor, but the trio garnishes them with their personal traits.
04. Second Thoughts
05. Pass It On
09. Warm Valley
11. Worry Later
Dave Holland – double bass
Kenny Barron – piano
Jonathan Blake – drums
Ronnie Scott’s, London U.K. 10 March 2020.