An encounter of present-day jazz giants that was arguably the supergroup event of 2016, Aziza is more than a collective of jazz know-how, its sparkle comes from jazz ‘know-each-other.’ Bass legend Dave Holland is one of the rare elder statesmen of the music form who remains dedicated to doing fresh, new things with it, and he’s enjoyed a long association with tenor sax Chris Potter going back to the latter’s late 90’s inclusion in Holland’s quintet. Guitarist Lionel Loueke and drummer Eric Harland were band mates in Terence Blanchard’s group and Harland got together with Holland for the latter’s acclaimed fusion excursion Prism a few years back.
A tour together in 2015 sparked a chemistry that was too right not to exploit further, and the four formally formed this Aziza quartet to make new music together and document it in the studio. Aziza, released on Holland’s Dare2 Records, is the happy result.
In the true spirit of democracy, each member pitched in two tunes apiece and the way the others add their own imprints to songs they didn’t write is where the fascination lies. For example, the sideways funk of “Aziza Dance” couldn’t come from anybody than Loueke, who peppers it with his marvelously idiosyncratic voicings and effect, but it’s the pocket created by Harland and Holland that expands the appeal all the way down to your feet. Potter’s “Summer 15” is Africanized with Loueke’s joyful rhythm work, and the H/H rhythm section is so active and dynamic it nearly shapes the harmony as much as the rhythm…even while Loueke and Potter turn in flawless solos.
“Walkin’ The Walk” is, naturally, the bass player’s composition, and he devises one of his typically irresistibly serpentine motifs. How Harland plays around that employing the “less is more” tactic though, is equally inventive. Potter sketches out the pretty melody of Harland’s nimble waltz “Aquila” and then draws out a fine, improvised articulation of it. Loueke’s own solo delves deep into the jazz side of his worldly guitar.
Potter’s “Blue Sufi” has the progressive-minded verve of his Underground fusion group, but Harland’s sick drums puts it on another level. “Finding The Light” is Holland’s song both in the creator of it and its star; his solo reminds us that there is no one else out there who can be so creative on the fly while keeping it firmly in the pocket. For this track, Potter switches to his other weapon of choice, the soprano sax.
Harland’s ballad “Friends” is an occasion for the four to apply discreet, tender treatment that enhances the song’s quiet finesse. The album ends just as it begins — with a Loueke contribution — and finds him in a rockin’ mood over those knotty and festive West African rhythms.
In African mythology, ‘Aziza’ is the god of inspiration. Across four careers that leave nothing left to prove, Holland, Potter, Harland and Loueke look to each other for further inspiration.
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