Dave Douglas: No Labels, No Compromises
Remarkably, for all the work that goes into shaping the material, there is precious little rehearsal. "We did one rehearsal for Strange Liberation ," Douglas says, "and Bill wasn't there. We had two days with Bill in the studio, and on the first day we played everything; I think I had about fifteen tunes, and we read through everything. Then I went home, listened through and made cuts and changes to the arrangements. I fiddle around with the arrangements a lot in the studio, so each take will be slightly different; moving things around, changing the introduction, the order of the solos, the very idea of solos, and I often do it overnight. Then I get up early in the morning and suddenly everything is very clear; 'Oh, this is why this piece is ten minutes long and it should only be seven minutes long, and here's where the fat is,' so I trim it out. Pretty much everything on the record is from the second day, and either a first or second take. Everybody had a night to sleep with the material, so we came in and all I had to do was say, 'Remember how we did it this way? Now we're going to do this ,' and then we'd do one or two takes and we'd be done."
A third day was reserved for "Seventeen" and "Passing Through," tunes that did not include Frisell. Once the recording is complete, however, Douglas then prefers to distance himself from it. "The first thing that happens," explains Douglas, "is I put it in the bottom of a drawer for preferably a month; I don't listen to it at all. I just go on to the next project, which is usually some kind of tour or some other thing. And then I'll come back and start winnowing through, deciding which tracks should be mixed and if there's any editing to be done. There are only one or two edits on Strange Liberation ; I used to be manic about edits, and I would really painstakingly cut things together. Now, I find I do that less and less."
The Next Project
These days Douglas is learning ProTools, the industry standard for digital recording and editing, for his next recording project, a follow-up to '03's Freak In. "After I did that record," says Douglas, "I realized that I really should have my hands more in the pie." And while Freak In has been labelled as an electronica record, what differentiates it is the propensity for real-time playing. "To be interesting to me," continues Douglas, "it still has to be about real playing. I'm very happy with the way Freak In came out, but I don't think it's an electronica record at all. I think what happens in electronica very often, and even electronica-meets-jazz records, is that everything is on the basis of a loop, and that's anathema to me, to the idea of people making music together. I'm not anti-loop, it's just that the way I often hear them used is as a wallpaper over which something else can be layered, and that doesn't really turn me on.
"I'm working with the process quite a bit," continues Douglas. "I feel like I'm doing a lot of pre-production, working with ideas, and more electronics; but the backbone of the album will still be live sessions that have yet to occur. A lot of the work for me, at this stage, is envisioning how that will happen; the best way to tie in the band. I'm working with Gene Lake on drums, DJ Olive, Jamie Saft on keyboards, bassist Brad Jones and this great young tenor player named Marcus Strickland. We're doing a tour this summer, and I'm going to record some material before the tour and some afterwards and see what happens."
Douglas' career has been characterized by diversity and jumping between musical opposites. In direct contrast to his more electric work with the quintet and Freak In projects, there's his Mountain Passages Group. "I was commissioned," explains Douglas, "to write these pieces to be played on the top of Dolomite mountains, and it caused me to think a lot about what mountain music is, and to listen to it quite a bit. I ended up writing these pieces for trumpet, clarinet, tuba, cello and percussion. These are all instruments that can be carried up to the top of a mountain and that's what we did last summer. The weirdest and most wonderful gig I've ever done in my life was taking a funicular up to about ten thousand feet, and then hiking about three hours from there with all our instruments, and then getting to the top, this mountainous, rocky crag. There were a thousand people, who'd hiked up to see this, and we played all this music; I wrote twelve pieces to be played by that ensemble.
"Actually," Douglas continues, "we'll be playing them at the Vancouver Jazz Festival this coming June. Unfortunately not from the top of a mountain, but at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre, against my better judgement; but I'll be able to record it while I'm there. Michael Moore is the clarinettist, Dylan van der Schyff on percussion, Peggy Lee on cello, and Marcus Rojas on tuba."
Music and Social Conscience