Review: ECM’s Luminessence Series Reissues Kenny Wheeler’s 1976 Album ‘Gnu High,’ Featuring ex-Miles Davis Bassist Dave Holland

Classically trained double bassist Dave Holland shifts effortlessly between melodic, rhythmic, and harmonic modes on this album

By Greg Cahill | From the November-December 2023 issue of Strings Magazine

Gnu High, the dreamy 1976 album led by lyrical jazz trumpeter Kenny Wheeler is one of two inaugural reissues in ECM’s Luminessence audiophile vinyl series. Wheeler is supported by pianist Keith Jarrett, bassist Dave Holland, and drummer Jack DeJohnette—all veterans of Miles Davis bands. The classically trained Holland, whose double-bass jazz heroes included Leroy Vinnegar and Ray Brown, shifts effortlessly between melodic, rhythmic, and harmonic modes. His extended solos on “Heyoke” and the three-part title suite are mesmerizing, as are the many moments of self-discovery between Holland and DeJohnette.


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Gnu High Dave Holland, double bass; Kenny Wheeler, trumpet; Keith Jarrett, piano;
Jack DeJohnette, drums (ECM)
Gnu High, Dave Holland, double bass; Kenny Wheeler, trumpet; Keith Jarrett, piano; Jack DeJohnette, drums (ECM)

“Jack and I always liked to mess with the time—and Keith liked to, too,” Holland writes in the liner notes. “So, when we started improvising, it was fascinating how it developed, because the forms were still there, but rhythmically we were playing them in a really free way, so that the speed at which we were going through the form remained the same, but we weren’t dividing it up into beats. We were dividing it up into spaces. I had this wonderful combination of the form and the shape and the harmony of the tunes, but then this really free kind of way of interpreting them.” One can only hope that Gnu High—which is cut from the original analog master tapes and pressed on high-quality 180-gram vinyl—is the first of many Luminessence reissues featuring Holland, whose ECM career as a leader, co-leader, and sideman spanned four decades.