by Greg Baise
A true downtown (that’s NYC, natch) aesthete, trumpeter Dave Douglas connects modern improvisation and modern composition like they were just made to walk hand in hand. And maybe they were. In 2001, it’s no big deal to link the jazz dive and the recital hall, blending the lessons learned from street-corner gigging with a studious and omnivorous musical curiosity. But it is a big deal when someone so talented does it so seamlessly, as on this fine recording.
For Douglas, jazz isn’t a rote retread of the triumphs of the ’50s. It’s a living genre, even today, kept alive by the virtuous players who are always trying something new. He even lists all sorts of pioneers in improvisation in his liner notes, from Fletcher Henderson and Duke Ellington to Terry Riley and Pauline Oliveros to Brian Wilson and Stevie Wonder. And you can hear echoes of all of them on this record, except for Stevie Wonder. Though its practitioners may look to the past, whether it be memories of great gigs or recordings that have captured classic sessions, this improvisation thing is about creation in the present moment, with an eye to the future. In his excellent liner notes, Douglas states, “The only way to go is forward; yet there are as many forward directions as there are musicians.”
And he’s chosen some excellent musicians with whom to go forward. You might recognize bassist Greg Cohen from his work with Tom Waits and Lou Reed, as well as his downtown pedigree. Violinist Mark Feldman displays the improv intuition that comes with having played with Douglas for more than a decade. Of course, the wheeze of a squeeze box in a downtown setting summons the ghost of Astor Piazzolla, but Guy Klucevsek is an innovative champ in his own right. Douglas must like him, too, because he gives Klucevsek a spotlight tune called “Variety.” In this multitracked accordion duo, Klucevsek displays the talent that makes him the prime mover in the world of avant-garde accordion.
In this chamber-jazz setting, Douglas frees up genre and writes charts for a superlative group of musicians who show a remarkable group-mind, whether they’re exploring elements of klezmer, post-Third Stream jazz, modern classical or Nat Adderley. The quartet even tackles “Goldfinger,” in a dark and twisted way. Douglas himself has few peers among modern trumpeters, and certainly he’s unique in his willingness to combine his talents with such a diverse musical agenda. Douglas uses this quartet’s unique sonic palette to create an intimate, interesting and innovative listening experience.
E-mail Greg Baise at email@example.com.