Last night I had the strangest dream. I dreamed Dave Douglas’ Charms Of The Night Sky band took the place of the original band The Monkees on their TV comedy show (stay with me and we might make some sense of this). Remember The Monkees were actors chosen to play musicians (not unlike today’s Backstreet Bunch), but later rebelled against their producers and created their own records. Their coup against network expectations (all unknown until I stumbled upon the VH-1 Behind The Music show) was a surreal kind of post-modern reality. Trumpeter Dave Douglas plays the part of Davy Jones, bassist Greg Cohen is Mike Nesmith, violinist Mark Feldman (of course) plays Mickey Dolenz, and accordionist Guy Klucevsek is Peter Tork.
Confused! Me too.
Douglas, who has recently won just about every jazz award given out, releases just his second disc for a major label. His first for RCA was the septet Soul On Soul post-bop dedication to Mary Lou Williams. There was no mistaking its jazz was jazz. With the Charms quartet, sometimes its jazz is more tango, Balkan, folk, classical than jazz. But that, just like The Monkees thin façade of wackiness, is just on the surface.
Diggng deeper you find Douglas’ charm to be cleverly-disguised jazz. Easy. Take their cover of Nat Adderley’s “The Little Boy With The Sad Eyes,” As Greg Cohen walks his bass bop style the players take swinging call-and-response solos, maybe included to make believers out of the conservative jazz fan. Then there is the only other cover, which is the James Bond classic “Goldfinger.” Douglas plays the tune soulfully straight, paired with Mark Feldman’s melodic support
The meat of this release is two commissioned pieces. “In So Many Words,” dedicated to Jaki Byard, was commissioned by Chamber Music America and “The Branches” by Ashkenaz Festival. The Byard piece feels like a movie soundtrack composition echoing the stated emotional titles by way of classical-jazz-popular inventions. Feldman takes an emotional solo on “Mournful” and the melody of “In Praise” stays with you long after its 5 minutes. “The Branches” returns Douglas to his of love for European folk and classical music.
Klucevsek takes a turn at a whirled solo piece Douglas wrote for him called “Variety.” It is almost the accordion equivalent to a Naked City cut-and-paste thrasher song and my personal favorite is the rapid “On Our Way Home” where Klucevsek takes a solo, quotes The Beatles, and suddenly it hits you. This Eastern European romp could easily have been an adaptation of a Fab four pop tune.
But then again, weren’t the Monkees also an adaptation of The Beatles for American consumption?