Dave Douglas: A Creative Consciousness

Dave Wayne By

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Considering trumpeter Dave Douglas' musical career, one word that comes to mind is "consistency." Sure, he's led a dizzying variety of bands playing in all sorts of styles. Yet, of the 30-odd recordings he's led, not one veers from the central mission of presenting challenging, original jazz. An inveterate musical risk taker, Douglas has always led several different bands simultaneously. Back in the mid-1990s, he had Parallel Worlds, Dave Tiny Bell Trio Douglas, and the Dave Douglas Sextet—each with different instrumentation and personnel, each playing its own book of all-original material. Not one to stay in one place too long, Douglas then formed Charms of the Night Sky (a drummer-less quintet with accordionist Guy Klucevsek), Sanctuary (a double quartet featuring two trumpeters, two samplers, two bassists, drums, and reeds), and a piano-less quartet. After signing a major label record deal in 2000, Douglas' music became even more challenging, encompassing elements of electronica, fusion, post-bop, and various traditional ethnic musics.

After the major label deal ran its course, Douglas didn't flinch. He launched his own label, Greenleaf Music, in 2005. Initially devoted to documenting his own music, Douglas expanded the label's roster to include significant new works by flutist/vocalist Nicole Mitchell, saxophonists Donny McCaslin and Curtis Macdonald, bassist Michael Bates, guitarist Nels Cline, and the wonderful avant-fusion band Kneebody. All of these recordings can now be heard via the label's latest venture, the Greenleaf Cloud Player.

Despite a plate full of his own projects—including Bad Mango (with So Percussion); the Orange Afternoons Quintet (featuring Vijay Iyer and Ravi Coltrane); Brass Ecstasy (with Vincent Chancey, Nasheet Waits, Luis Bonilla, and Marcus Rojas); and KeyMotion (Douglas' electric band with saxophonist Donny McCaslin)—Douglas remains highly sought after as a sideman, bringing his instantly recognizable sound to projects such as Richard Galliano's Nino Rota tribute. Douglas recently formed Soundprints, a new band focusing on the music of Wayne Shorter, with Joe Lovano, and Joey Baron.

All About Jazz: Please tell us about the project you're working that pays tribute to Nino Rota's film soundtracks. Your sound is quite compatible with this decidedly non-jazz milieu.

Dave Douglas: It's a quintet led by the virtuoso accordion player Richard Galliano, with John Surman on soprano saxophone, the Russian bassist Boris Kozlov, and Clarence Penn on drums.

AAJ: Is this something you put together?

DD: Not at all. This is completely Richard's project and his arrangements. There's a new recording, on Deutsche Grammophon, of all of this music [Richard Galliano Plays the Music of Nino Rota (2011)].

AAJ: Is this Rota's soundtrack music, or does it focus on other music he's written?

DD: This is all soundtrack music to the Fellini movies.

AAJ: It's more of a classical-sounding sort of thing, though. Is there much room for improvisation?

DD: I try to fit in some jazz where I can—my little thing [laughs]. There is actually quite a bit of space for improvisation, but a lot of it is us using our own voices to find something interesting to do that takes the music in a new direction. Our tendency, as jazz musicians, is to try to get inside the music and bring something of value from our own language.

AAJ: You recently released a three-CD box set, Three Views (Greenleaf, 2011), that features three different groups, yet has a real unity to it. Tell us more about this.

DD: Well, I guess I am cursed with this desire to constantly come up with new projects and to meet new people I'd like to perform with. When I do that, it engages my composer's mind, and I start to write new music as well. Each of these projects came about this year, based on things I was writing and new relationships that I wanted to engage. As Greenleaf developed this Portable Series idea, it clicked that I could do these shorter recording sessions in a more informal, intimate way, and that I could put them out into the stream almost instantaneously.

As the project went along, and we had the three recordings all finished, a lot of people were asking for the CDs. A lot of people in the jazz world, while being technologically capable of streaming and downloading, still like to have a package with a design and photos and liner notes, and all that. So that's what we've done with the Three Views box set. It puts together all of the sessions I've done for the Greenleaf Portable Series (GPS) this year. And, as you said, each of them is with a different group.

The first one (Rare Metals) is with the Brass Ecstasy band. I was inspired to write a new set of compositions and take the band into the studio after we released the United Front: Brass Ecstasy at Newport (Greenleaf, 2011) CD.

The second one (Orange Afternoons) is a quintet with Ravi Coltrane, Vijay Iyer, Marcus Gilmore, and Linda May Han Oh—some of my favorite players. I wanted to do a session that was, for the lack of a better word, more of a straight-ahead jazz session. So we came together and learned these tunes that are actually more like lead-sheet-type tunes. There was a lot of freedom in it, and Vijay and Ravi were really able to make their own way with these pieces. I've known these people for some time, and I was able to pull them together for this session and for the gig at the Jazz Standard.

The final one is—and I hate to use the word "classical" because I think you use the word about style, and it tends to put people in a box—so let's say it's with a creative percussion quartet called So Percussion. We're going to record the week at the Standard and possibly see what happens. It may go on to a stream of its own.


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