Dave Douglas conducts a group with his whole body. He nods to the bassist, glances toward the drums, shrugs at the DJ, and raises his brow to the saxophonist all within one swift measure of music. Then he plunges into a trumpet solo that cleanses the senses like dry white wine. Douglas shined as a leader and showman at Tonic, on Tuesday, September 24, as he drove his septet into the unknown. A stunt familiar perhaps to the ensemble, but enchanting to an eager audience, that followed the dramatic, evocative compositions into an amorphous universe. The set started unassumingly enough as undulating sound seeped phantom-like into the space. The horns flowered, Jamie Saft played luminous chords on the keyboard, Chris Speed stated a plain, pleasant line on saxophone, and Douglas took off on a wild ride of trills and rapid runs through the notes. Two tunes into the set I realized that this is the kind of music you never want to end. It's the kind of music the synchs with your brain waves. The human psyche achieves homeostasis. DJ Olive on turntables, and Ikue Mori on drum machine and PowerBook set the sometimes echoing, sometimes chirping, sometimes hip-hopping beat. Combined with Saft’s highly affected keyboard they created a dreamlike, emotive, Twilight Zone atmosphere. Relinquished from their rhythmic duties, Mike Sarin on drums and Brad Jones on bass were free to go elsewhere or get on board with the trumpet or sax.
At one point toward the end of the set, the bass, drums, keys, and electronic equipment were in such perfect accord that they transcended the auditory realm and emerged in a more visual and sensual plane. It became a musical Garden of Eden. Like a lone civilian trapped in this amalgamation of surreal beauty, Douglas wandered in on trumpet. He found a companion in Speed on saxophone and the sounds became more vibrant. The drums created a dreamy vibration with sheets of reverberating metallic percussion.
The set was more than a beautiful soundscape. Throughout the course of the evening the Dave Douglas Septet transformed the aesthetics of the space by combining new technology and jazz traditions with charming, fantastic grace.
I was first exposed to jazz while working overseas in Africa as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I would listen to the Voice of America on the radio and they had a nightly jazz program on at 10:00pm. I learned a lot about jazz listening to this program. I also had a friend who listened to real jazz by artists like Charles Mingus, Eric Dolphy and Archie Shepp. On my way home from Africa I landed in New York and had the opportunity to see the George Adams/Don Pullen quartet at the Village Vanguard as well as Kenny Barron and Ron Carter at another club, and was in heaven.