Dave Holland double bass
Recorded August 1977 at Talent Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher
The upright bass is, of course, a fixture of many jazz ensembles, in which it often “solos” but only over or surrounded by other instruments. Strange, then, that the thought of it on its own should be such a difficult one to swallow (no pun intended). Where most musicians might have fallen back on the comfort of overdubbing and other postproduction trickery, Dave Holland stepped boldly into the limelight (pun intended) with Emerald Tears. Although the album does retain a certain novelty factor by its very concept, even in the hypothetical presence of a tradition of solo bass recordings one imagines it would stand out for its broad palette and ingenuity.
Six of the album’s eight selections bear Holland’s name as composer. “Spheres” and “Under Redwoods” are the two contemplative interlocutors. The former volleys melodic cells between lower thrums and a harmonic pedal point. Quick fingerwork from both hands adapts the instrument to constantly shifting desires for a sound that is fragmented yet immediately relatable. The latter spreads a wider net that is more experiential than autobiographical.
The heavily lilting intro of the title cut declares its state of mind with ceremonial regularity, even as it bends to the whim of improvisation. A flick of the finger gives off a burst of virtuosity. “Combination” is, not surprisingly, a relay between bowing and plucking. This is the outlier of the program and for me doesn’t work quite so well as the rest. Nevertheless, its timbral variety is only heightened by its surroundings. In this vein, and far more effective, are the extended techniques of “Flurries,” which liquefy the strings even further. “Hooveling” is a most characteristic Holland bass line that could easily inaugurate a full-blown quintet piece, but is used instead as a hook into scattered monologues. Of the two non-Holland cuts, the post-bop wings of “B-40/RS-4-W/M23-6K” (Anthony Braxton) give plenty of lift. One might feel tempted to populate the sky around it with clouds shaped like drums, sax, and piano were it not for Holland’s rewarding density. Urgency is regained in “Solar” (Miles Davis), which maps its paths in jagged strokes across an already erratic geography.
Emerald Tears is more than a love song to its instrument. It is a free journey with definite returns, each a touchstone along the way. It takes a few listens to pick out the album’s motives, but they’re surely there, pristine and flowing. I think for the right mood this is a perfect album to put on and let carry you away. Either way, it is a striking and exemplary solo achievement bearing one of jazz’s most distinctive creative signatures.