David Holland Quartet – Conference of the Birds

1973 – ECM Records


Let’s start by saying this Is one of my favorite recordings of all time. The playing from all the musicians is superb: Anthony Braxton, Dave Holland, Sam Rivers, and Barry Altschul blend together perfectly to create a unique and incredibly entertaining album that still surprises after multiple listens. I am going to focus this post on Barry Altschul. The back of the album lists him for percussion and marimba. The distinction between drumset-ist and percussionist is a topic that I think about often (I know that’s pretty nerdy, but I don’t care). Barry uses percussion, along with the drumset, to convey his musical message. Listening to this album, you can hear that he thinks as a true percussionist, not merely limiting himself to drumset patterns. In my view, it is a more open-minded way to play. The percussion comes out as a melodic instrument here, playing off the bass and the reeds. When he solos on “Interception”, the shape and melody of the song come through.  He pushes percussion past the perceived boundary as just a rhythm keeper, it becomes an integral part of melody and mood. Altshul’s plays only what is necessary for the song musically. Thinking of percussion as one large instrument, he seamlessly transitions to marimba in the middle of “Conference of the Birds”. If he were playing the first part of the song the way a strict drumset player would, the transition would sound forced and unnatural. Needless to say, this is a record to get your hands on.