Some artists take years to reach a point of individuality. Others, like trumpeter Dave Douglas, have demonstrated a personal vision from such an early stage that, although his voracious appetite for all things artistic clearly informed his work, it was immediately recognizable as his, regardless of the context.
Douglas' current quintet first explored a space that owed something to late-1960s Miles Davis on 2002's The Infinite ; but now, with a couple of years of touring behind them, and the addition of guitarist Bill Frisell, they deliver Strange Liberation , where they move past post-Miles and completely into Dave Douglas territory, continuing a string of successful and inventive releases that is sure to reaffirm Douglas as one of today's most ambitious and creative artists.
One of Douglas' strengths has been his ability to find exactly the right musicians for each project; he always chooses musicians who have an innate understanding of what he is trying to accomplish. On Strange Liberation the goal seems to be a contemporary blend of American traditions, with a more overt emphasis on the blues, although there are no out-and-out blues numbers to be found in the set; the closest things get is the 16-bar form of "Rock of Billy," where things shift between a rock and roll feel and straight-ahead swing. Frisell shows on this track, as he does on the whole album, that his personal penchant for simpler Americana music has not lessened his ability to approach Douglas' more complex harmonic, rhythmic and structural writing.
Frisell has one of the richest guitar sounds around. Chris Potter continues to assert himself as a dominant force; Uri Caine has graced a number of Douglas projects, as much for his chameleon- like ability to meld with any format as for his strong sense of musicality; James Genus and Clarence Penn are rapidly becoming a rhythm section tour-de-force; whether it be on impressionistic pieces like "Just Say This" or the more intense "Seventeen," they provide the right support while, at the same time, driving the front line forward.
Douglas' technique continues to expand, although it never gets in the way of the music; for Douglas, as with the rest of the band, the song's the thing, and while there is plenty of impressive playing on Strange Liberation that asserts the strong personalities involved, egos never get in the way.
In a recent issue of Downbeat magazine, Douglas wrote that he dreams of a time when "musicians aren't typecast into a genre, when they are allowed to create music as simply music." With a growing catalogue of releases it would seem that Douglas is doing more than just dreaming; he is making that time become a reality now. Strange Liberation is another fine entry in a body of work that strives to break down barriers by eliminating preconceptions as to what music should or shouldn't be with distinctive compositions, outstanding playing and a group chemistry that continues to evolve.
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Personnel: Dave Douglas (trumpet), Chris Potter (tenor saxophone, bass clarinet), Uri Caine (Fender Rhodes), James Genus (acoustic and electric bass), Clarence Penn (drums, percussion)
with special guest Bill Frisell (guitar)