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Dave Douglas: Secular Psalms

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Dave Douglas: Secular Psalms
Trumpeter Dave Douglas has worked with religious themes in the past, notably on Be Still, (Greenleaf Music, 2012), and he gets back into that realm on this wide-ranging 2022 album. The music is a suite commissioned by the city of Ghent, Belgium to commemorate the 600th anniversary of the creation of an altarpiece for its St. Bavo's Cathedral. For this occasion Douglas assembled a group of young European musicians along with cellist Tomeka Reid who, because of the pandemic, had each to record their parts from their home cities, Ghent, Amsterdam and Chicago. Together they created music that brings in elements of medieval folk songs, 15th century composers, the Latin Mass and modern improvisation, all swirled together into a diverse but focused tapestry of sound.

The overall mood is set by the opening track, "Arrival," where the entire band trudges slowly forward in a determined wave with piano, trumpet, electric guitar and cello all taking brief turns at the front of the pack. The singing of tuba and serpent player Berlinde Deman comes into play on later tracks. She quietly chants lyrics from Marvin Gaye and religious texts over Douglas' swooping trumpet on "Mercy" and sighs along with lute, pump organ and cello on the worshipful medieval melody of "We Believe." Lander Gyselinck's drums set a clipped march rhythm on "Instrumental Angels" that Douglas and Reid lightly dance over before Frederik Leroux's electric guitar and Marta Warelis' piano trickle through, bringing a more modern flavor into the music as all the instruments start to fly apart.

The modern influences are even more pronounced on other tracks. "Hermits and Pilgrims" starts like a hymn with a dour melding of cello and organ before the other musicians come in playing to angular prog rock rhythms, with Reid and Douglas soaring freely in their soloing. "If I'm In Church More Often Now" is a pretty pop-folk song sung ethereally by Deman as the leader's trumpet spirals around her voice. "Righteous Judges" mixes burbling and crackling electronics in with an eerily creeping melody led by trumpet and guitar and "Ah Moon" moves from gentle solitary pings and chords by the strings and piano into hazily sung French and a searing wave of heavy electric guitar.

There is a sense of humility and awe about this music as though it is approaching some mysterious and powerful force. All its disparate threads combine into a moving whole with all the individual players acquitting themselves well, especially Douglas, Reid, Leroux and Gyselinck, whose drumming ties it all together. This majestic suite is one of the recent high points of Dave Douglas' prolific career.

Track Listing

Arrival; Mercy; We Believe; Agnus Dei; Instrumental Angels; If I'm In Church More Often Now; Hermits and Pilgrims; Righteous Judges; Ah Moon; Edge of Night.

Personnel

Additional Instrumentation

Dave Douglas: voice; Berlinde Deman: serpent, voice; Marta Warelis: prepared piano, pump organ; Frederik Leroux: lute, electronics; Lander Gyselinck: electronics.

Album information

Title: Secular Psalms | Year Released: 2022 | Record Label: Greenleaf Music


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