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Dave Douglas: Keystone

Michael McCaw By

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Keystone is an incredibly mature-sounding album from Dave Douglas—not because his work up till now has not been complete, but because he has fully integrated the technology and mode of the music first espoused by Miles Davis. Yet he has moved beyond that reference point and created a group sound that is thoroughly modern and doesn't need to push itself to musical extremes to demonstrate mastery.

Dedicated to and inspired by early film comic Fatty Arbuckle, Keystone uses the actor as a reference for musical themes without mimicking the usual aural images associated with early films. Keystone—like Douglas' tributes to Wayne Shorter, Booker Little, and Mary Lou Williams—is a unique dedication that's tied to its source but not hindered by it, either.

To this end, Douglas has put together another strong group of players capable of everything he is looking for. The sextet features saxophonist Marcus Strickland, bassist Brad Jones, drummer Gene Lake, and turntablist DJ Olive, as well as another impressive performance from Jamie Saft on Wurlitzer, following strong showings on John Zorn's Astaroth and Jane Ira Bloom's Like Silver, Like Song. The set is also co-produced by David Torn, the often unnoticed but omnipresent seventh member of the group.

Douglas sometimes works the extremes of the group sound, as he did with Freak In, occasionally undercutting the album's effectiveness with the need to showcase every facet of the group. But Keystone is streamlined and consistent in its palette. Saft's Wurlitzer often sets the stage with a mid-tempo spacey-funk feel that the others pull away from and return to. DJ Olive is in line with DJ Logic's mode of working within a group context in real time, rather than adding contributions in post or simply sitting by the wayside till his next feature. His contributions to the overall enveloping album sound provide a direct contrast to the up-front feel of Douglas and Strickland's horns.

"The Real Roscoe is but one of many highlights that show off the entire group's strength. The bed seems to embrace found sounds until Lake comes in with a driving beat, to which the horns introduce a theme. Douglas, here and throughout the album, is in complete control of his horn. He's rarely sounded better. His solos mine the middle ground of his instrument, rarely diving off cliffs or soaring into the stratosphere, expressing a lot because he articulates so clearly.

With obvious reference points to Bill Frisell's masterful Buster Keaton albums for Nonesuch, Douglas has composed music can stand independent from the Arbuckle films or work within them as an accompanying soundtrack. Included in the package is a DVD with the 34-minute Fatty and Mable Adrift (1916) and a "Just Another Murder" music video, so you can watch this music in action.

Track Listing: A Noise from the Deep; Just Another Murder; Sapphire Sky Blue; Butterfly Effect; Fatty's Day Off; Mabel Normand; The Real Roscoe; Famous Players; Barnyard Flirtations; Hollywood; Tragicomique.

Personnel: Dave Douglas: trumpet; Jamie Saft: Wurlitzer; Gene Lake: drums; Marcus Strickland: saxophones; Brad Jones: bass; DJ Olive: turntables; David Torn: co-producer.

Title: Keystone | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: Greenleaf Music

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