Dave Holland feat. Evan Parker, Craig Taborn and Ches Smith – Uncharted Territories – [TrackList follows] – Dare2Records CD-DARE-010, (2-CDs) 65:16, 65:45 [5/11/18] ****:

Renowned bassist Dave Holland calls Uncharted Territories—his double-album project—“open form improvisation.” That’s a precise way to describe the two-plus hours of free-form jazz which includes 23 tracks which range from ten minutes to under three minutes. Open improvisation is nothing new to Holland (he spent nine years with saxophonist Sam Rivers), but Uncharted Territories is the first release under Holland’s name to focus almost solely on spontaneous performances. Holland put together an interesting line-up, comprising saxophonist Evan Parker (who exclusively uses tenor sax on this outing); Craig Taborn (piano, keyboards, organ and electronics); and Ches Smith (percussion, vibes). Taborn has worked with saxophonists James Carter, Chris Potter and Roscoe Mitchell among many others. Parker’s extensive collaborators include Charlie Watts, Kenny Wheeler and David Sylvian. Smith has performed with Marc Ribot, Tim Berne, Carla Bozulich and Ben Goldberg. Each musician has issued solo albums and led various groups. Holland and Parker were both in England’s mid-1960s improvisation scene (see Spontaneous Music Ensemble). The two friends got back together to record in 2017. The idea of a duo undertaking altered when Holland invited Smith after listening to Smith’s playing and writing on Smith’s own records. Holland then asked Taborn, who was in the ensemble Prism with Holland, drummer Eric Harland and guitarist Kevin Eubanks. Though the others had played together, this is the first time Smith performed with either Holland or Parker.

Most of the 23 pieces were fashioned ‘in the moment’ although Holland decided to revisit his free-form work “Q+A” (originally found on Holland’s 1973 LP, Conference of the Birds) and Smith brought two new compositions. On Smith’s 7:37 “Thought on Earth,” which opens the first CD, Smith employs vibes for the melodic tune’s initial introduction as Parker produces a lyrical tone on his tenor and Holland supplies sliding arco bass. Smith then switches to light percussive effects as “Thought on Earth” progresses; about halfway through, the music becomes prickly, unpredictable and unconventional as the energy and flow accelerate and heighten. The first CD is mostly improvised configurations, including Holland’s zigzagging “Q+A,” where Taborn again turns to vibes and showcases his talent on that instrument while Parker echoes, at times, Charlie Parker and Sonny Rollins. Taborn crisscrosses his piano keys to craft a rhythmic essence. And Holland sustains a twisting bass journey. Another highlight of the first CD is the six-minute “QT12” which quickly heads into high gear as Holland and the others propel and push themselves into a fast-paced, conceptually bop-oriented approach. At the opposite end of the gamut is the ethereal “Organ – Vibes W1” which puts Taborn’s electronically-augmented organ alongside Smith’s subtle vibes. The cinematic attribute of “Organ – Vibes W1” is akin to something which might have been heard during Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1970 Zabriskie Point movie.

The second CD commences with the 6:25 quartet offering, “QT13,” where Smith adroitly changes between drums and vibes and Taborn imaginatively exploits a Bluetooth speaker to modify the sound of his piano. “QT13” has an idiosyncratic electro-acoustic characteristic which suggests Holland’s days with Miles Davis such as In a Silent Way and Bitches’ Brew. Smith’s other composition, the 5:39 “Unsteady as She Goes” is on the second CD. At the outset Smith’s piece has a portentous authority as Smith’s rolling tympani creates a feeling of thunder while Taborn’s exploratory piano adds to a sense of foreboding. After that, the quartet constructs a shifting, four-part dialogue of extemporaneity accentuated by Holland’s throbbing bass patterns, Smith’s vibes and Parker’s equivocating sax. Other stimulating tracks have differing instrument collations. The sublime “Tenor – Bass W1” is a tenor sax and bass duet; the all-rhythm “Bass – Percussion T1” is an emotive, groove-etched improvisation which illustrates Holland and Smith’s conversational complexity. Uncharted Territories concludes with the lengthiest cut, the quartet improvisation “QW1,” which provides lots of space for each musician. Smith is heard on vibes; Holland contributes beautiful bass lines; Parker follows Holland’s lead with equally splendid sax notes; and Taborn shines on acoustic piano. There are also electronic shades which rise and drift in and out of this supple and deft piece. Uncharted Territories is a sometimes otherworldly and other times fostered foray into unknown waters. The many combinations and interactions means there are always different and fresh moments to be discovered. If someone is a fan of free-form jazz, Uncharted Territories is a release to listen to and experience.


CD 1:
Thought on Earth
Piano – Bass – Percussion T1
Tenor – Percussion W2
Tenor – Bass W3
Tenor – Piano – Bass T2
Organ – Vibes W1
Bass – Percussion T2
Tenor – Piano – Percussion T1

CD 2:
Tenor – Bass – Percussion T2
Piano – Percussion W3
Tenor – Bass W1
Piano – Bass – Percussion T2
Unsteady As She Goes
Bass – Percussion T1
Tenor – Bass – Percussion T1
Tenor – Bass W2

—Doug Simpson

Dave Holland Web Site

Dave Holland, Uncharted Territories Album Cover