Opening tracks don’t get much more attention-grabbing than “The Watcher,” which introduces bass great Dave Holland’s all-star fusion band Prism, featuring guitarist Kevin Eubanks, keyboardist Craig Taborn and drummer Eric Harland. You get the feeling, hearing the quartet put a sonic charge in the tune, that they have been itching to loosen their ties stylistically—particularly Holland, who is known for dotting i’s and crossing t’s in arranging for his stellar acoustic bands, and Eubanks, after 15 years of buttoning down as leader of the Tonight Show Band.
Propelled by Harland’s pulverizing strokes, Eubanks plays with stinging, slashing power, Taborn creates eddies of color and energy at the Fender Rhodes and Holland—perhaps with memories of slugging it out with Jack DeJohnette in Miles Davis’ electric band—works from underneath to define the shape and groove of the song. Prism subsequently achieves much of its power acoustically, particularly on Taborn’s pair of maze-like compositions, on which the pianist ranges from Keith Jarrett-like clusters to spidery crawls to wide-open free statements.
But Eubanks, who appeared on Holland’s 1988 quartet album, Extensions, burns throughout, applying pinched, minimalist force to Taborn’s “The True Meaning of Determination” and slipping into a blues-rock mode on “The Empty Chair.” The guitarist also shows off his lyrical side on his own “The Color of Iris.” The remarkable Harland, whose Caribbean-laced “Choir” is one of the early melodic highs, gets the last compositional word on Prism. His ethereal closer, “Breathe,” is as calming as the opening track is explosive.