Paradoxically consistent yet somehow unpredictable, trumpeter Dave Douglas is an artistic rarity. Even when he records a followup to an existing project, you know it's going to be an evolution which throws in some surprises. Last year's Strange Liberation may have been a sequel to 2002's The Infinite, but the addition of Bill Frisell inspired new tactics, both compositionally and in performance.
Douglas' new disc, Keystone, has some precedence in his electronica-informed 2003 release, Freak In. Like that record, however, it avoids many of the trappings of pure electronica. Despite all manner of electronic treatments at work, the core is a real playing band. But what distinguishes Keystone most is that it's Douglas' most groove-oriented album to dateand his most funky.
You can also be sure that when Douglas does a groove record, it's not going to pander or water down his music to reach a larger audience. Keystone will appeal to a broader group of listeners than, say, more avant-garde records like 2001's Witness, but it's no less credible or artistically driven.
Inspired by the life and work of Roscoe "Fatty Arbucklea comic performer who inspired better-known comedians from the early 20th Century like Charlie Chaplin and Buster KeatonKeystone makes terrific use of the relatively nascent DualDisc technology. One side of the disc contains the CD release with the full tracks, the other a DVD side with Arbuckle's film Fatty and Mable Adrift accompanied by Douglas' score, as well as a video compilation from the film Fatty's Tin-Type Tangle, for Douglas' "Just Another Murder.
The new group features Jamie Saft on Wurlitzer piano, Gene Lake on drums, Marcus Strickland on saxophones, Brad Jones on bass, and DJ Olive on turntables. With these players, Douglas manages to create a contemporary sound that's as appealing as it is adventurous. All eleven tracks may revolve around booty-shaking rhythms, but that doesn't mean the players are restricted in any way. There may be considerable structure, but it's filtered through Douglas' sensibilities, and the playing is also loose and elastic. That means that like Bill Frisell's music for Buster Keaton films in the mid-1990s, the multimedia tour starting in October will straddle the line between video cues and a more open-ended approach to interpretation.
Co-producer David Torn is the hidden seventh member of Douglas' group. In the same way he has worked with saxophonist Tim Berne to fashion an imaginative aural landscape from the musicians' work, he also sculpts Keystone.
Many artists are paying direct homage to Miles Davis today, and Keystone may tip its hat to the Dark Prince at times. But Douglas' writing is far more detailed than any of Miles' late-'60s to early-'70s work. In fact, if anything, Keystone owes more to Wayne Shorter, with a vibe that suggests how Miles' mid-1960s quintet might have sounded had it access to today's technology.
Note: Keystone will only be available in the United States directly from Douglas' label, Greenleaf Music.
Personnel: Dave Douglas: trumpet; Jamie Saft: Wurlitzer; Gene Lake: drums; Marcus Strickland:
saxophones; Brad Jones: bass; DJ Olive: turntables; David Torn: co-producer.