Dave Holland announced that he and saxophonist Chris Potter would begin their duo concert with the first track on Dave's first album as a leader, Four Winds. The recording is, of course, the takeoff point for his seminal Conference of the Birds, with Holland, Anthony Braxton, Sam Rivers and Barry Atschul exploring the converging strains of jazz circa 1972, in many ways an meeting new place of form and freedom. In the hands of Potter, a child prodigy who apprenticed with Charlie Parker sideman Red Rodney, it was rather a full exploration of the technical structures, melodic and harmonic, that the composition presents. Together Chris and Dave rolled short ideas into long discursions, twisting motifs around, backwards, and through. Any musician who has spent hours "twelve-keying" ideas at a teacher's behest would snarl in wounderous indignation at how easily, how logically and how musically the two turned the exercise into an exciting performance.
One thing the concert drove home is that Holland and Potter are first and foremost structuralists, fascinated by form, its creation and deconstruction, all filtered through the blue notes, camps and growls that punctuate and often define the word jazz. Potter's "Doctor Benway" (sp?) illustrated this fully- the tune (if I heard it right) is something of a palindrome, an ABCBA form. The As are a very catchy vamp- in in 14/4, cut up into an 8+6 beat pattern. The Bs are more obvious metrically, but constantly in motion harmonically, landing in spots interesting and unusual, but entirely logical. In their improvising, rather than simply riding the form (and the tune was hard enough that that could've been enough) they continued to play games with it. It was quite heady, sure, but they matched that intellect with an almost athletic exuberence that was tremendously engaging. (Also, they're at a music school, with at least 400 music nerds in the audience lapping it up and carrying the rest of the audience along.)
This was only my second time seeing Potter live- the first was years ago on (I believe) the first gig of Dave Douglas' "New Quintet" in New York, now not so new. In his bio, Potter mentions as saxophone idols Bird, Trane, Ornette... and Eddie Harris. On this gig the Harris connection is obvious. Partially due to his "soul jazz" reputation, I don't think Eddie gets the credit he deserves as a player. (And I don't count myself as a huge fan either.) He combined a tremendously well studied intervallic approach to improvising with a funky, soulful delivery and an old-school honking sound. It would be tough for anyone to match Eddie's soul, but Chris has certainly absorbed some of that approach to sound and delivery, which often grounds his headiest explorations. He's also an amazing bass clarinetist- his prelude to his own "Minuet", a free-time ballad, was nothing short of breathtaking.
As for Holland himself, there's little I can say that can't be said. He and Chris' affinities and sympathy with each other are obvious, and his choice of music, his own and others (The two covered Monk's "Work" and Duke's "Prelude to a Kiss", which Dave said seemed built for that instrumentation.) was sharp and enjoyable. One side note- Dave has the best posture of any bassist I've ever seen, which may account in no small part for his amazingly clean sound and technique that seems to improve with each recording, no mean feat.
Dave Holland is in his second year as a distinguished guest artist at New England Conservatory, which means for two weeks a year he leads workshops, teaches lessons and presents concerts of his music with NEC students. This residency concludes Thursday evening at Brown Hall with a concert featuring Dave and student musicains playing his music. The concert is free.