A chunky stew of countless cultural influences and myriad musical forms, jazz has always stolen freely from just about anything it could get its hands on. This unfettered kleptomania has always been key to music's vibrant nature, yet at the same time has made the music itself increasingly difficult to define.
Case in point: pathologically restless trumpeter/composer Dave Douglas' Mountain Passages
, the first release by his newly minted Greenleaf label. The 41-year-old Douglas, who seems intent on creating a different ensemble for every day of the year (this is the debut recording by the quintet he calls Nomad), has made a fascinating career out of rampant eclecticism; any one of his twenty-plus leader discs is more likely to contain variations on Webern or Schumann or traditional Hungarian cs'rd's than Ellington or Weill. Thus, being a Douglas recording, Mountain Passages
is almost predictable in its unpredictability, from its unconventional lineup (with reedist Michael Moore, cellist Peggy Lee, tubaist Marcus Rojas, and drummer Dylan van der Scheff) to the circumstances surrounding its genesis. (The Festival at the Sound of the Dolomites in Northern Italy asked Douglas to compose music that would be "played between nine and twelve-thousand feet"and was.)
Comprised of twelve short Douglas originals (most clock in at around four minutes or less), it's a warm, airy, lyrical album, swept with snatches of Alpine folk melodies, woozy oom-pah rhythms, swanny balladeering, Raymond Scott-like cartoon swing and leisurely free improvisation. Yet the captivating Passages also has a tightly composed, chamber music feel to it; as is Douglas' habit with small ensembles, each instrument holds an equally prominent place in the conversation. The music is at turns solemn, whimsical, darkly melancholic and plaintively gorgeous, but what exactly is it? Jazz? Well, yeah... sort of... maybe... sure. It's certainly as much jazz as it is as anything else andlike all Douglas' explorationsundeniably worth your attention.
Personnel: Dave Douglas: trumpet;
Peggy Lee: cello;
Michael Moore: clarinet, bass clarinet, alto saxophone;
Marcus Rojas: tuba;
Dylan van der Schyff: drums.