Tuesday, February 03, 2004

Dave Douglas – Strange Liberation (Bluebird, 2004)

Dave Douglas’ new project finds him in a very jazzy vein, bringing back the group with which he recorded the excellent album The Infinite – Chris Potter or reeds, Uri Caine on Fender Rhodes, James Genus on bass and Clerence Penn on drums. The wild card is the extra band member – Bill Frisell on guitar.

Ben Ratliff noted in the New York Times (below) that there is a very Wayne Shorter like feel to the compositions on this album, but there is also some of the feel of the music of Miles Davis’ early electrical period. Douglas is a very political artist and the title track is a poignant statement of his views on the current conflict. He solos in a reserved way over the group and then gives way to Frisell who explores the theme with a gentle yet probing solo. The melody is yearning and yet hopeful as if despite all of the recent trouble there is still reason for hope.

“Skeeter” begins with another low-key statement of the melody. Uri Caine takes a very laid-back solo and then Chris Potter and Douglas return on bass clarinet and trumpet to take the song out. “Just Say This” keeps the mood melancholy with some very Miles-like statements from Douglas to open the song, taking a mournful solo with a slow late night noirish feel to it. Potter comes in on tenor and keeps the backstreets at 3 a.m. feel going with a meditative solo backed by some very jazzy and tasteful chords from Frisell and vibraphone like notes from Caine. This is beautiful although very restrained music, saying less with more.

“Seventeen” ups the energy level a little with Douglas soloing over a rapid drumbeat. Chris Potter kicks in with a very assured and confident sounding tenor saxophone solo. Caine get a nice solo spot of the electric piano and then Douglas swaggers back in playing a fast paced solo to end the tune. The next three songs all feature Bill Frisell – “Mountains From the Train” has him using electronically altered guitar loops against subtle electric piano and a soft and subtle trumpet solo to create a very peaceful feeling. He comes out blasting on “Rock of Billy” which I expected to be very much in the mode of the “Americana” music that he had been playing of late, but turns out to be an upbeat electric jazz composition, also featuring an excellent forceful solo by Douglas. Finally, “The Frisell Dream” features him juxtaposed against an attractive trumpet solo.

“Catalyst” ends the disc on a very upbeat note, with a strong and forceful tenor solo by Chris Potter who really makes his presence felt on this disc, not only as a soloist, but on the ensemble passages as well. All in all, this is an excellent slice of modern jazz. Dave Douglas has a reputation for bouncing from project to project and from group to group, so it would be nice to see him stick to this format and group for a while to see what effect regular touring and recording would have.

Rating: 9

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