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The Dave Douglas Quintet at the Jazz Standard, New York, Dec. 7

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Dave Douglas Quintet
The Jazz Standard, New York City
Thursday, December 7, 2006
Early Show

Trumpeter/cornetist Dave Douglas, one of the most prolific bandleaders in the last decade, has embraced rather than cursed technology and used his six-night run at the Jazz Standard as a means of disseminating his music to the broadest possible audience. Both sets for each night were recorded live and are already available at the Greenleaf Music (Douglas' label) site. While on-location jazz recordings are commonplace, a live MP3 album, available practically the following day, is a relatively new development in the world of jazz recording.

Jazz is almost always best heard live, with a live, unedited recording coming in next. If the music itself has spontaneity, with the band clicking and the audience moving with them, nothing can match a live show.

The personnel in Douglas' quintet (Douglas: cornet; Donny McCaslin: tenor saxophone; Uri Caine: Fender Rhodes; James Genus: bass; Clarence Penn: drums) has been set for some time now (with McCaslin taking Chris Potter's role), and these sets reprised much of material recorded on three previous albums—The Infinite (2001), Strange Liberation, (2003), and Meaning and Mystery (2006)—along with the addition of a number of new pieces from a recent European Tour.

For those who might be doing a double-take at Douglas playing cornet, be assured that indeed it was a cornet, and read what Douglas himself has to say about his cornet playing on the Greenleaf site.

The band places undeniable challenges upon itself. As Penn said to me after the set, "There were 40 or 50 pieces to remember, which is quite a lot." However, Douglas' music is a mix of the composed and the improvisational, with sections that can be ordered by cues, both visual and musical, and which were quite evident as the set progressed. Just as apparent, though, were those times when the band was in full improvisation mode, usually to a wicked groove, with the lead being passed around, as the others listened and watched intently.

Douglas' music is tonal and thematic and thus very accessible, with much strong rhythmic content. It also is written to be able to mutate as conditions warrant, such as when a soloist is on a roll. Douglas himself has written that he was deeply influenced by the 1965 Miles Davis Plugged Nickel recordings, and the way the intra-band ESP played itself out in real time.

This show, with the club almost full, captured the telepathic communication among the musicians that was a hallmark of the Davis Plugged Nickel sets. McCaslin and Douglas, as the front line, played together and separately very well, always maintaining touch with the rhythm section behind them. Both of their sounds were on the dry side, their tones to my ears feeling more pushed than flowing. This effect might have been purposeful, to contrast with Caine's keyboard sound. Surprisingly, Caine's Fender Rhodes, an analog electric piano that was ubiquitous in the '70s, complemented the sounds of the principals, not sounding anachronistic in the least. His instrument was positioned so that he faced Penn, facilitating continual communication between the two players.

For me, the magic of the set happened when Douglas and McCaslin abandoned the stage to Caine, Genus and Penn. The show-stealer was without a doubt Penn, but in the best possible way. This music demands complete elasticity and responsiveness rhythmically, and Penn not only listened and reacted but also pushed and prodded the others continuously. He and Genus are good friends, as reflected in Genus' attentive following of Penn's every lead. Visually, any drummer has the most moving parts on the stage, but Penn combined a percussionist's customary animation with a continuous smile and body language that said he was having fun (despite having to remember so much music!)

Usually, when the band is cooking and has the audience following every note, the set flies by. This set, happily, seemed very long, although it was the usual hour. The sense of an expanded performance could have been because the music was at once so dense and multifaceted that the listener, no less than the musicians, had to be actively, unremittingly engaged in meeting its challenges. In any case, there was joy in the room, and it was passed back and forth between players and audience.

Visit Dave Douglas on the web.

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