David Holland Quartet - Conference of the Birds (1973), 8/10

Digestible and groovy, yet divinely chaotic throughout, Conference of the Birds is one of the most important avant-garde jazz albums of the seventies and a textbook blending of disciplined harmony with unbridled pandemonium. Sam Rivers and Anthony Braxton tear apart the melodies and their inherent structure at the seams with brilliant interplay and robust improvisation, playing not only tenor and alto, but also flute and clarinet. Whether considering the traditional foundation of a track like “Four Winds” or the forward-thinking, cavernous, yet academic “Q & A”, each composition has much more to offer than what first approaches the ear. These two styles meet in the title track to produce one of the most instantly palatable yet rich arrangements of the record. This arc of pleasant warmth, followed by the ethereal, then by a blending of the two is shattered with “Interception”, a showcase of manic belligerency akin to European free jazz and its brutally chaotic aesthetics, something Braxton and Rivers clearly drew inspiration from in the future. Dave Holland as a brand new bandleader shows surprising maturity not just in composition prowess but also in coercing some of the best individual performances we would ever get from the band members including Holland himself, a very clearly formidable individual bassist. Barry Altschul shines particularly during his frenzy in “Interception” but is remarkably consistent in providing an unshakeable foundation, yet providing a multitude of phenomenal excerpts at appropriate moments. Holland, Braxton and Altschul also notably performed together as Circle along with Chick Corea. The album closes with "See-Saw", another fantastic track that again fluidly merges an Ornette Coleman-like structure with a very Braxton-esque academic insanity. The leading melody is again outstanding by itself but intensifies with a surge of frolicking improvisation, intertwining the perfected rhythm both in bass and percussion with delicate yet vicious horn blasts. It's a shame more didn't come from this absurdly talented and idyllic quartet, but Conference of the Birds remains a classic and an accumulation of marvelous jazz musicians coming together to perform in a wonderous and timeless symphony.