newgrass roots and fruits

Norman Blake, Tut Taylor, Sam Bush, Butch Robbins, Vassar Clements, David Holland, Jethro Burns (HDS)

Once in a While (Flying Fish)
Vassar Clements

By John Goodin

Music Trivia: Who's the only person ever to record with both Miles Davis and John Hartford? Anthony Braxton and Sam Bush? Answer: the bass player central to both these recordings, Dave Holland.

In the early '70s, a lot of long-hair types were "turned on" to bluegrass music. Three albums were in almost everyone's record collection: New Grass Revival, John Hartford's Aereo-Plain and the "album with all the names." Three cheers to Flying Fish for resurrecting and distributing the latter in compact disc form.

In my memory, this disc was white hot, burning with feverish improvisation. Almost 20 years later, it seems not as daring, even relaxed. Either way, it is a landmark recording, Holland's presence bestowing a jazz benediction on the fledgling newgrass style. Numbers like "Sauerkraut'n'Solar Energy," "Vassar and Dave," and "Oconee" took bluegrass to the outer limits and inspired a lot of bad, but really fun, jam sessions. Versions of "Sweet Georgia Brown" and "Take the A Train" mapped a less bumpy road that pickers could take to Jazzville. Without a doubt, David Grisman played this record a few times at his house.

Recently, Flying Fish again teamed Vassar Clements with Dave Holland. On Once in a While, the mix was flavored with guitarist John Abercrombie and Jimmy Cobb (who played for Miles Davis in the '50s). A really fine, swinging recording of jazz standards emerged. Cobb is great and Abercrombie adds just the right spice to the proceedings. The opening "Indiana," the lazy groove of "Sweet Lorraine" and the eight-minute update of "Sweet Georgia Brown" are my favorites.

Clements and Holland are wonderful on these sessions. Both have prodigious technical ability but make the simplest lines sound interesting. Both prefer a sound that is rich and dark. Both exude pleasure in their music-making. We owe producer Henry Deane many thanks for having the vision to bring these men together.

To folks interested in the bluegrass-jazz connection, these discs are of major importance. If we could only get RCA to reissue Hartford's Aereo-Plain in a box with its follow-up Morning Bugle (a trio date with Holland and Norman Blake), we'd be doing all right.