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Bringing the "Charms of the Night Sky" ensemble to his new creative home at RCA Victor, trumpeter and over-achiever Dave Douglas releases his third album of the year, A Thousand Evenings. The lineup is the same as it was on the group's 1998 Winter & Winter debut: Douglas on trumpet, Mark Feldman on violin, Guy Klucevsek on accordion, and Greg Cohen on bass. "Chamber jazz" does seem the ideal term for this instrumentation, although Douglas is of course eager to shun all labels.
If anything, the album is even more unpredictable than its predecessor. Klucevsek's unaccompanied solo "Variety," written by Douglas in honor of its performer, is one of the biggest surprises. There are two mini-suites this time around: "The Branches," written for Dave Tarras, a klezmer clarinetist active in the earlier part of the 20th century; and "In So Many Worlds," written for the recently departed Jaki Byard, one of the most unique piano stylists of the post-bop era. As always, Douglas emphatically calls attention to his wide-ranging influences, even while creating music that is every bit his own. The two non-originals even come across as original. These are Nat Adderley's "The Little Boy with the Sad Eyes," the most explicitly jazz-oriented piece (which, interestingly, doesn't sound especially sad), and the old James Bond theme "Goldfinger," an oddball choice that seems to fit perfectly. The penultimate track, "On Our Way Home," is a riotous Mediterranean/polka/klezmer romp that surely ranks as one of Douglas's best moments to date.
Douglas's orchestrations are enormous in scope, even as they home in on exquisitely small, subtle detailsthe leader's barely perceptible breath effects during "In Praise," the third movement of the Byard tribute, are one example. In terms of instrumentation, as well, Douglas confounds every assumption with this group: opting for the much-maligned accordion over piano, dispensing with drums. The sonic blend of trumpet, violin, accordion, and bass is a continual delight, and the virtuosity of every player is consistently astounding. Mark Feldman's timbral repertoire and expressive capacity are particularly worth savoring.