Dave Douglas: Constellations (2010)
Concert/Festival Reviewer since 2007Martin Longley also writes for the BBC Music website, Jazzwise and The Wire magazines, plus the NYC Jazz Record and Coventry Telegraph newspapers.
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This reissue harks back to a time when trumpeter Dave Douglas seemingly operated within a more extreme zone of jazz improvisation. When this 1995 set was recorded at Radio DRS in Zurich, the trio had been together for three years, Douglas having built up a tight bond with guitarist Brad Shepik and drummer Jim Black but such a lightning closeness didn't tend to occlude the threesome's unique playing characters.
To compartmentalize loosely each member's area of expertise we can say that Black is a rickety rummager, Shepik a tonal painter and Douglas an ultra-kinetic hummingbird. All three, when acting as one, have no trouble navigating the often-convoluted pieces. Most of these are penned by Douglas, with the occasional speckled exception. Angular busyness is the norm, dynamic changeability a common process.
Douglas had utilized Eastern European folksiness as a core melodic prompt, but his final results are only partially rooted in gypsy flamboyance, regularly veering aside, up a slightly strange mountain path. Balkan abstraction dominates. There's an element of circus japery, an extroverted showing-off that sounds like the band's natural state. Douglas is intent on having fun with virtuosity. This is music of many sections: multiple twitches that begin with free-swirling, but might coalesce with a bounding jolt.
By the third track, "Hope Ring True," the mood becomes darker, the progress slower and more considered. Douglas is morose and contemplative. This condition is only temporary, as "The Gig" (a Herbie Nichols number) renews the spirited, twitchy rush, "Les Croquants" (by French singer Georges Brassens) makes a slightly tipsy swagger and then the disc concludes with Robert Schumann's "Vanitatus Vanitatum," a delicately stumbling tip-toe, cavorting lightly as it reaches its climax. Black murders his Brazilian cuíca drum as he pushes its tuning higher and higher. An intoxicated air pervades, yet the Tiny Bell is always punctual.
Track Listing: Constellations; Unhooking The Safety Net; Hope Ring True; Taking Sides; The Gig; Scriabin; Les Croquants; Maquiladora; Vanitatus Vanitatum.
Personnel: Dave Douglas: trumpet; Brad Shepik: guitar; Jim Black: drums.