Litchfield Jazz Festival
Goshen Fairgrounds, CT
August 6, 2000
Fresh from his quadruple victory in Downbeat magazine’s 2000 critics’ poll, trumpeter/composer Dave Douglas brought a slightly retooled version of his quartet to Connecticut’s annual Litchfield Jazz Festival. Ben Perowsky remained behind the drum kit, but Brad Jones replaced James Genus on bass. The tenor spot, regularly occupied by the ubiquitous Chris Potter, was given over to the younger and lesser known but equally phenomenal Mark Shim. While Shim has gained recognition as a member of Greg Osby’s New Directions, and as a leader with his superb album Turbulent Flow, this gig with Douglas could well be a turning point in his career, bringing him to the attention of wider audiences while revealing previously unknown facets of his talent.
Douglas’s Litchfield set, while hampered by rainy and cold weather (in August!), was indeed enlivened by Shim’s low-register, throaty attack and boundless imagination. It was nice to hear a different take on Douglas’s structured-yet-loose quartet inventions. "Leap of Faith" got the set off to a burning start, Douglas sounding like a hard bop trumpeter with chops in abundance. The contrapuntal mysteries of "Magic Triangle" changed the mood, bringing a curious stillness to the crowded concert tent. Free jazz montages and solo snippets characterized the deliberately unhinged "Padded Cell." Continuing with two more and concluding with the lively "Euro Disney," Douglas made it very clear why he’s become so highly regarded. His quartet takes a classic jazz idiom and imbues it with a new and highly refined compositional sense, as accessible and memorable as it is challenging. Seeing Douglas in a smaller, home-turf environment such as the Knitting Factory is one thing. Seeing him in a festival context, one gets a different view of his ability to please a crowd without being a mere crowdpleaser.
Unfortunately, toward the back of the tent the crowd was less than one hundred percent attentive throughout the set. Let’s just say there’s no quiet policy at Litchfield. Quite unlike the festival at nearby Caramoor, food is allowed in the Litchfield tent and the seating is general admission, two factors that encourage a lot of coming and going, a lot of shuffling around, a fair amount of chit-chat — in short, a lot of distractions. The unexpectedly horrendous weather only aggravated the situation. It’s still a young festival, with room for improvement. Perhaps in the coming years, the setting will be as top-notch as the players are.