The Wexner Center for the Arts’ Fall 2016 jazz season ends with a bang, and a return to the beautiful Lincoln Theatre, with Aziza on Friday, October 21st at 8pm (tickets available here). Aziza is a new collaboration between four of the best-loved artists ever to grace the Wexner stage – Dave Holland, Chris Potter, Lionel Loueke, Eric Harland – on tour promoting their debut album released on 10/14. Read on for more information about each of the musicians in this group as well as thoughts about the self-titled album and live videos.
Drummer Eric Harland wowed Columbus in February at the Lincoln with Charles Lloyd and the Marvels and, giving symmetry to the year, he returns with Holland, another bandleader who first made his name in the late ’60s. Harland has a propulsion that swings in multiple directions at once. Richard Schenin from Mercury News once said, “He can sound like a percussion orchestra or a one-man samba band, and every gesture is sincere and powerful, whatever his volume level, as well as crisply articulated.”
Guitarist Lionel Loueke sold out the Wex performance space touring his first record for Blue Note, Karibu. That record and the three since, particularly last year’s gorgeous live Gaïa, made him one of the brightest stars in the current Blue Note constellation. Around the time of that first appearance, Nate Chinen of the New York Times, said, his music “[Reflects] Mr. Loueke’s cultural vantage, notably with respect to rhythm. But any jazz fan with a modern inclination will recognize the searching spirit behind the music. That impulse has been jazz’s perpetual challenge and great constant, from the very beginning.” More recently, the same writer commented on Loueke’s “sense of thrilling unrestraint, a willingness to push intuition past the point of comfort.” Also a top-flight sideman, he’s enhanced records by Herbie Hancock, Jeff Ballard, Jack DeJohnette, Joe Lovano, and Norah Jones.
Chris Potter has been coming to the Wex as a leader since 2004 and made appearances in Dave Holland’s quintet and octet. One of the most prominent saxophone players for many in my generation, hearing him with trumpeter Dave Douglas, Paul Motian, and Dave Holland all relatively concurrently was like having a light switch flipped on, the muscular snarl of Joe Lovano with the sweetness of classic Joe Henderson but in a voice that didn’t quite sound like anybody else. With the Underground, he did as much to reconceptualize jazz rhythm in the present without feeling like he was using those new rhythms as novelty as anyone has in the last 20 years. I caught Potter’s quartet at this year’s Winter Jazz Fest, and he’s still playing and writing at an amazingly high level; I can’t wait to hear that sound again at the Lincoln.
Dave Holland needs no introduction; he’s one of a handful of musicians who’s reshaped the course of 20th-century music. Growing up in England, backing acts as diverse as Johnnie Ray (“Cry,” “Whiskey and Gin”) and Chet Atkins, he still has some of that concise sense of song in his solos you could hum but never would have thought up. He played with the cream of the improvising crop in England including Evan Parker and Kenny Wheeler before he got the call from Miles Davis to join Davis’ band for In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew, still ur-texts for almost anyone making avant-garde jazz, and was off like a rocket. I came to his work through his own Quintet which still features some of the best compositions, particularly his horn charts, I’ve ever heard. Going back through his catalog was the gateway drug that got me into Anthony Braxton. His expanded Octet at Weigel Hall, with an opening duo, set between Holland and tabla virtuoso Trilok Gurtu is one of the finest nights of music I’ve ever had the privilege of witnessing.
Aziza’s eponymous debut features two tracks written by each of the four members, balancing blood-churning grooves with rhythmic creation shot through with some of the stickiest hooks you’re likely to find on any record this year. Spirituality soaks this record. Loueke’s lead-off, “Aziza Dance,” named after the Dahomey myth, is riddled with a loose, organic funk as it teases the listener, its arc surprising at the same time it feels inevitable. Potter’s “Blue Sufi” sensuously ratchets up the tension with the rhythm section accenting and stabbing stilettos through that melody with Holland’s voice-of-God judicious bass shifting underneath Harland’s etched-in-stone patterns and Loueke’s simmering chicken-scratch guitar erupting as Potter passes that melody off to him like a baton. Holland’s “Finding the Light” explores a similar intersection between the smoky-slow and barely hemmed-in ecstasy. His bass and Potter’s soprano dance as they trade the melody back and forth, volleying higher and higher with a remarkable solo from Harland juggling that same theme on a drum solo that fills out the rest of the sky. “Aquila,” written by Harland, is a ballad that makes the listener feel like they could reach right up into the constellation it’s named for. The composer plays a shuffle that finds new corners wherever it shines its light without ever seeming showy, forming a dual center of gravity with Holland as Potter and Loueke tear into that glowing melody.