Dave Holland’s Prism has all the ingredients of a full-throttle fusion quartet. There’s fuzz-and-whine guitar, the clang of Fender Rhodes, a welter of beats and Dave Holland punching out riffs on upright bass. At this gig riffs rocked the house and solos were long and built to impress – just four numbers were played in a tight first-house set.
But, despite the blues references and alt-rock sounds, this was no fusion-jazz bash. The volume was reined in and the quartet’s intricacy and flow matched that of the best acoustic jazz bands.
Holland told us that he first played the club in 1968, soon after joining Miles Davis, when the trumpeter was entering his electric phase, and Holland’s first tune of the set, “New Day”, also mixed acoustic flavours with electric energy. It started with a firm single-note riff from Holland, a rattle and hiss from Eric Harland’s drums and sparse grand piano from Craig Taborn. The pianist’s lines were simple, but implied that much was to unfold.
Kevin Eubanks’ guitar entered with a whining lead, Holland stayed firm and added a twiddle, and then a shift to Latin, more implied than stated. Tension mounted, rhythms switched, then Eubanks unleashed a flurry of fuzzed-up guitar. He picked and strummed and played with his thumb, plucked densely-voiced chords one-handed from his fret and broke into the blues. All the while the accompaniment simmered and cajoled, shifted rhythm and altered time.
Eubanks has just finished a 15-year engagement with the house band of The Tonight Show, and seemed to have a lot to unleash – at times his wrist was a blur. And on the final number he hinted at country blues, Isley Brothers soul and rock thrash.
But his were not the only highlight moments. The minimalist jigsaw “Spirals” delivered a long edge-of-seat duet between Harland’s time-shifting beats and Taborn’s overlapping keyboards – an acoustic grand fugue looping over a Fender Rhodes riff. A rolls-and-thump solo from Harland mesmerised and the bass introduction to “The Empty Chair” resonated with poignancy. Holland was magisterial throughout, stoking the fires and underpinning the intrigue with deep tones, supple moves and subtly shifting riffs.