Monday, September 06, 2010
Well, this particular stretch of vinyl is hitting on some seminal items for me. First "'Coon Bid'ness", then Hendrix, now "Conference of the Birds" (I skipped over Andrew Hill and Billie Holiday, not thinking I could write anything remotely interesting about either, as much as I enjoy them)
But this was quite a revelatory release for me, I guess from the Spring of '73. It was recorded on November 30, 1972 and, even had I been far more aware of what was occurring in avant jazz at the time, I imagine this would still have come as something of a shocker. Holland, already coming from the entirely unreasonable dual association with Miles and the Spontaneous Music Ensemble, forged a rather unique melding of the avant garde with some hard driving tunes (along with other, freer investigations, of equal merit to me). I believe there was a five star review in downbeat when CotB arrived that made these points, doubtless spurring my purchase.
It was the first time I'd heard Braxton or Rivers, a fact that immediately sent me off finding everything I could by those two. A great pairing, two very different sounds, the former smooth and sinuous even when a-roar, the latter all grit, spittle and impending hoarseness. But more than that, it's Holland's compositions and the balance with which they're arrayed here that still resonate powerfully. Three of the pieces are post-boppish, each with exciting heads; the two freer works are marvelously knotty, especially "Q&A" with its wonderful resolution, unexpectedly on first hearing, to a delightful theme; and then the title track which is the unique piece, the sublimely gorgeous, folk-like melody, the exceedingly delicate interplay of Rivers and Braxton on flute and soprano and, more than anything, Holland's incredibly song-like work beneath and between. Concentrate on his lines sometime--utterly beautiful and free.
I posted the cover photo on facebook earlier today and received a few comments referring to this album as "perfect" and "flawless". Within the parameters of new jazz in the early 70s, I do think this is about as close as you get in some respects. I may love "Les Stances a Sophie" more, but as an entirety, "Conference of the Birds" is extraordinary--everything about it works, it remains exciting, the beauty hasn't faded. It probably goes without saying that, for my money, Holland as leader never again came close to this.
But I say that for a good many releases from this period...still not quite sure if that's nostalgia talking or if it's at least semi-objective. But, for instance, did Sam Rivers ever put to wax anything more impressive than "Streams" (1973)? Not to these ears. Braxton is at least a partial exception--I haven't kept up for a good while, but I know, for instance, that parts of "Willisau (1991)" are as strong as anything I've heard from him. But for so many, that late 60s-early 70s period strikes me as bearing unexpectedly and uniquely luscious fruit.
I have Holland's solo cello LP, "Life Cycles" (1983) a well and gave it a spin earlier. Quite lovely, really, also holding up well. Should get more mention than it does. When he indulges in his more romantic and folkish side, there's often great beauty to be heard.
The only other vinyl here with Holland as leader is his first quintet album for ECM, also from 1983, "Jumpin' In", with Kenny Wheeler, Julian Priester and a youthful Steve Coleman. I suppose it's fine (and I bought three or four more of this incarnation on disc in subsequent years) but it's tough for me to listen to now, too routine, too much a kind of avant answer to Wynton and that crowd, "Look--we avant guys can swing too!" Too bad.