Dave Holland Quartet | Conference of The Birds – [ECM, 1973]
I originally bought the LP of this in early 1974, having heard Holland, Altschul, and Braxton in Chick Corea’s band Circle, and of course knowing Holland’s work on some highly conspicuous Miles Davis recordings (In a Silent Way, Bitches Brew…). I bought CotB under the impression that I knew what I was getting myself into. I’d been wrestling with atonality for awhile — late Coltrane, Schoenberg, whatever I could find that seemed reasonably “important.” I was not getting it. I had the youthful faith that there was something worthwhile happening inside all that cacophony, but I needed a Rosetta Stone to make sense of it. “Conference of the Birds” was my Rosetta Stone. From the opening bars of “Four Winds” I was completely captivated. It swings hard, the improvisations are always coherent — no matter how frenzied and dissonant they sound, and Holland’s compositions are outstanding. The title song is a beautiful folk ballad that makes a perfect breather amid the fiery uptempo rants and cryptic, avant garde soundscapes. This record was the best education my ears ever had. Even though I now have it on CD, I still have my battered vinyl copy of CotB, and hold onto it for purely sentimental reasons.
Holland is without question one of the greatest living jazz artists, and no bassist except Charles Mingus has ever matched his all-around musicianship. I think Holland’s output on ECM has been very consistent over the quarter-century he’s been recording for them, so it might seem unfair to call this the best recording to ever come out under his name, but he’s never really topped this. Check out all of them, but if you like CotB in particular you should also listen to the Dave Holland/Sam Rivers duet records, particularly Volume One. Also, his solo cello CD, “Life Cycle” contains his best collection of compositions.
To me, this disc is the jazz equivalent of a Bartok string quartet, and in my book, it doesn’t get any better than that.
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