Continuing a pattern of alternating between experimental and straight-ahead releases, trumpeter and composer Dave Douglas has made Strange Liberation an inside, song-oriented alternative to last year’s more outside, exploratory Freak In. This is not to say that Strange Liberation does not break new ground—it just follows a more familiar route of solid playing without studio enhancement. Eschewing modern covers, the CD contains all original Douglas compositions written specifically for his quintet and special guest, guitarist Bill Frisell. The performances show that Douglas has learned from their many gigs to write tunes that bring out the best in his band.
Frisell’s tone is unmistakable, yet fits comfortably with the group. He offers strong solos on several tunes including the title track, a spacious, mid-tempo vamp, and “Rock of Billy,” an up-tempo burner. That tune also affords Chris Potter’s tenor saxophone room to stretch, as does the quirky, rhythmic “Seventeen,” set around several seemingly disjointed feels punctuated by the rhythm section. Potter plays over and through them without missing a step, showing why he is such an effective partner for Douglas.
The leader shines on many selections, but one standout is “Just Say This.” It is a mournful tune featuring muted trumpet, airy melodic movement, and unhurried rhythm highlighted by the shimmering cymbal work from drummer Clarence Penn. Other sparse tunes that develop slowly include “Mountains From the Train” and “Passing Through.” “The Jones” is a quicker song that features Uri Caine’s Fender Rhodes. The closer, a rollicking ensemble piece called “Catalyst,” is set up by the relentless groove of bassist James Genus and Penn and boasts outstanding solos by Frisell and Potter.
Though not as far-reaching in experimentation as previous Douglas recordings, the subtle interplay of the band and the beauty of the compositions are revealed further with each listen—pushing the boundaries less blatantly, but still pushing nonetheless.
A Single Sky, Strange Liberation, Skeeter-ism, Just Say This, Seventeen, Mountains From The Train, Rock Of Billy, The Frisell Dream, Passing Through, The Jones, Catalyst.
Dave Douglas, trumpet; Chris Potter, tenor sax and bass clarinet; Uri Caine, electric piano; James Genus, acoustic and electric basses; Clarence Penn, drums; Bill Frisell, guitar.
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