Dave Douglas/Louis Sclavis/Peggy Lee/Dylan Van Der Schyff: Bow River Falls (2004)
Recorded in a single afternoon, the set opens with one of Douglas' favourite compositions from the late Steve Lacy, "Blinks," setting the stage for the rest of the programme, that being of shorter form pieces that are mere sketches, providing a road map for collective improvisation. While pieces like "Blinks" demonstrate a more outgoing personality, much of the recording is introverted, with an almost chamber-like sensibility. Overall rhythmically static, with Lee very occasionally providing more insistent pulses, the recording has some precedence in Douglas' Parallel Worlds Ensemble. But with less emphasis on form the result is more unpredictable. Sclavis' "Fete Forraine" starts with a rubato trumpet-clarinet theme but quickly heads for uncharted territory, with the dynamics ebbing and flowing. What is truly remarkable about this quartet is how responsive they are to each other; a simple idea, a simple rhythm, can be enough fodder to inspire a complete change in direction.
Douglas' "Petals" starts with one of the more clearly-defined rhythmic figures of the set, adhering more to individual soloing and a stronger compositional focus. Still, there is always the feeling that the group is using the written page as a mere jumping-off point, and that notations are nothing more than guidelines.
And yet as much as each piece can traverse a variety of territories, there is an unmistakable unity. As unprecedented as the group is, it feels organic and strangely familiar. While each player comes from a diverse set of backgrounds, together they converge, with a style that reflects those backgrounds yet is completely unified, clearly a case of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. Bow River Falls is as fine an example of collective improvisation around predefined sketches as you are apt to hear this year, a document that proves that with the right group of players, relative unfamiliarity can be less a hurdle and more an inspiration.
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Track Listing: Blinks; Bow River Falls; Fete Forraine; Window; Maputo; Petals; Retracing 2; Dernier Regards/Vol; Woman at Point Zero; Dark Water; Paradox
Personnel: Dave Douglas (trumpet), Louis Sclavis (clarinet, bass clarinet), Peggy Lee (cello), Dylan Van Der Schyff (drums, laptop)
Record Label: Premonition Records
Style: Modern Jazz