Why jazz duo Kenny Barron and Dave Holland's new album works

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 01 November, 2014, 11:11pm
UPDATED : Monday, 02 February, 2015, 12:49pm

Duet albums seem to be in vogue in jazz at the moment, and among the current crop of new releases, two particularly good ones come from the guitar/bass duo of Jim Hall and Charlie Haden, and the piano/bass partnership of Kenny Barron and Dave Holland.

Barron and Holland have been working together as a unit since 2012, and are now touring in the US and Europe to promote The Art of Conversation. The album comprises four Holland originals in The Oracle, Waltz for Wheeler, In Your Arms and Dr Do Right, plus Barron's The Only One, Rain and Seascape, along with thoughtful takes on Thelonious Monk's In Walked Bud, Charlie Parker's Segment, and also Billy Strayhorn and Duke Ellington's Daydream.

Barron has recorded with a long list of jazz artists, and brings impeccable taste and flawless technique to each session. Holland got his big break with Miles Davis, who he joined in 1968 in time to play on In a Silent Way; he has enjoyed a busy career, as a star sideman and as a small group and big band leader.

Barron and Holland complement each other, and are familiar with the other's style. "I always love playing with musicians that I can learn from and increase my understanding of the music," Holland says of his pianist partner.

Meanwhile, the Hall and Haden set, an archive release, has many of the same merits. Hall died in December last year and Haden this July, but we can expect record companies to continue posthumously releasing recordings from both.

This set, titled Charlie Haden-Jim Hall, was recorded at the Montreal International Jazz Festival in 1990, and was being prepared for release before Haden's death. Pianist Ethan Iverson's liner notes are dated April 2014, and include some comments from Haden about the night.

Haden and Hall first met in 1959, and first recorded together, with Ornette Coleman, in 1972. They shared stages quite often from the 1990s onward, recording to advantage on the 2001 release Jim Hall & Basses. However, this new release is the first concert-length recording of them playing together with no other instruments, and covers a lot of ground from the blues through ballads to both musicians' more avant garde side.

Highlights include Haden's First Song, and extended explorations of the standards Skylark and Body & Soul. "We were having fun but also it was so spiritual and so deep," Haden said.

Jazz lost another talented bassist last week. Although he will be remembered more for his groundbreaking contributions to blues and rock, Jack Bruce, who died on October 25 aged 71, always considered himself a jazzman.

Unlike guitarist Eric Clapton, neither Bruce nor his rhythm section partner, drummer Ginger Baker, really emerged from the shadow of what they achieved together in British rock band Cream between 1966 and 1968. However, Bruce continued working regularly on record and in concert, despite a period of heroin addiction and many years of generally poor health.

He always kept his jazz chops in shape, although hard-rock albums made with rock guitarists Robin Trower and Gary Moore got more attention than other, more interesting but less mainstream recordings. Bruce also played virtuosic acoustic double bass, and was a more than respectable blues harp player.

Take Three

Three albums featuring the late Jack Bruce in his jazzman's guise.

  • Things We Like (1970, Polydor): although not released until after Bruce's classic solo debut, the rockier Songs for a Tailor which came out in 1969, this free-jazz set recorded with drummer Jon Hiseman, guitarist John McLaughlin and saxophonist Dick Heckstall-Smith was recorded in 1968 before Cream called it a day.
  • Escalator Over the Hill (1971, JCOA): Bruce featured prominently in Carla Bley and Paul Haines' sprawling, often impenetrable jazz opera - or "chronotransduction" as the auteurs called it - as bassist and vocalist. The huge cast of jazz musicians included McLaughlin and Haden.
  • Lessons in Living (1983, Elektra): the 1982 Montreux Jazz Festival gave pianist/singer/songwriter Mose Allison the opportunity to assemble a dream band for a set promoting his then current Middle Class White Boy album, with Bruce on electric bass and Billy Cobham on drums.