Dave Douglas – Mountain Passages (Greenleaf, 2005)
This is a new group from Dave Douglas, the talented trumpeter who leads several ensembles. This is an all-acoustic group featuring Peggy Lee on cello, Michael Moore on alto saxophone and clarinets, Marcus Rojas on tuba, and Dylan Van Der Schyff on drums. The music was originally composed for an Italian jazz festival held high in the Alps.
Starting off appropriately enough with a song called “Summit Music” the band begins with a slow, peaceful groove giving way to a melody carried by cello and tuba with Douglas improvising above this foundation. The music is meditative with a bit of a classical feel to it. “Family of the Climber” refers to his father, a mountain climber to whom this disc is dedicated. The theme is built slowly around Moore’s alto sax, which solos delicately over trumpet and tuba. “Ganrly Snapps” finally picks up the pace a little bit as Douglas leads the band through a short up-tempo group improvisation. “Gumshoe” features trumpet over plucked cello, giving the piece an appropriately noirish feel. Tuba ignites the next track “12 Degrees North” and then holds down the bass duties while Douglas takes a lengthy solo sounding a little less mournful and serious than in the earlier selections. “North Point Memorial” brings us back down to earth. The music is quite beautiful but very sad, built around bowed cello opening and solo with clarinet and trumpet bubbling to the surface. “Cannonball Run” is a swifter paced song that lopes along paced by the tuba’s honking bass line. There’s a section of collective improvisation and then clarinet and drum solos.
“Palisades” slows things back down with a more abstract spacey feel. Plucked cello and light percussion provide a backdrop for clarinet improvisations and trumpet smears. “A Nasty Spill” is the longest track on the disc, an up-tempo composition with the drums keeping the beat and the band stating a sprightly theme with Douglas leading the charge. He then breaks loose with an energetic improvisation blasted forward by some excellent drumming. Moore’s clarinet loops in and out of the track. He spars with Douglas’ trumpet as music slows near the five minute mark before the rest of the group roars back in for a final plunge through the theme. “Off Major” has Douglas leading off over some nice drumming from Van Der Schyff. Bowed cello and bumping tuba lay down an interesting base for the horns to improvise over. “Bury Me Standing” is another abstract composition with sawing cello opening. The cello stays in front with an elegiac feel as the other instruments softly improvise around it. Douglas breaks from the pack with a darkly intense solo. “Encore” ends this disc on a positive note – upbeat and melodic.
This is an interesting debut for Douglas new group and the first CD for his new label as well. Music of the music is rather sad, but it is all played with a very high level of skill. If you are a fan of last year’s Bow River Falls or the Tiny Bell Trio, you will really enjoy this music.
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