Jazz CD Reviews

Brass Ecstasy – Greenleaf Portable Series Vol. 1: Rare Metals – Greenleaf Music

Trumpeter Dave Douglas masses the brass with sass and class.

Published on November 21, 2011

Brass Ecstasy – Greenleaf Portable Series Vol. 1: Rare Metals – Greenleaf Music

Brass Ecstasy – Greenleaf Portable Series Volume 1: Rare Metals [download 6/21/11, CD 11/22/11] – Greenleaf Music, 35:54 ***1/2:

(Dave Douglas – trumpet, producer; Vincent Chancey – French horn; Luis Bonilla – trombone; Marcus Rojas – tuba; Nasheet Waits – drums)

The world of jazz has always been forward-thinking when it comes to innovative music. But some jazz artists and labels are slightly behind on new technology, particularly in online distribution, content delivery and Internet community connectivity. Many who create or disseminate rock and pop music, for example, produce material solely for download users with no intention of physical manufacturing such as CDs. Pioneering trumpeter Dave Douglas, however, is ahead of the curve with his Greenleaf Music imprint, launched online in 2004. Greenleaf embraces blogging, web-only sales, mobile apps content, cloud sound streaming and the release of high-quality digital formats for those who prefer alternatives to vinyl, compact disc or other physical configurations: all through the Greenleaf website.

Douglas’ latest foray is the Greenleaf Portable Series (with the tech-savvy acronym GPS), which was unveiled online in June with the three-volume Three Views EP project, which is now available as a deluxe, three-CD box set which collects the three 2011 GPS undertakings (Rare Metals, Orange Afternoons and Bad Mango) along with Polaroid-esque session photos.

For the first GPS volume, Rare Metals, Douglas re-convened his newest group, Brass Ecstasy, in January, 2011, following the band’s participation at the 2010 Newport Jazz Festival, commemorated on the live release United Front: Brass Ecstasy at Newport (another Greenleaf album issued this year). The Rare Metals endeavor offered Douglas the opportunity to quickly record the lineup (Douglas on trumpet with Vincent Chancey on French horn; trombonist Luis Bonilla; drummer Nasheet Waits; and Marcus Rojas on tuba) on five new Douglas compositions plus a fresh arrangement of Billy Strayhorn’s standard “Lush Life.” A separate, promo-only CD of Rare Metals was used for this review.

The all-brass-with-drums assembly provides an interesting mix between subtle vibrancy and more vigorous moments. Opener “Town Hall” begins with lively, exuberant horns which groove behind Douglas’ stimulated trumpet. After the intro, the musicians slow down for a long, smooth section, and then the horns/drums resume the hastened arrangement to the finale. The funky “Night Growl” commences with Rojas’ slinky tuba which dominates an appealing New Orleans-shaped swagger and sass. While the tuba maintains the front position, the other horns advance through a friendly setting with occasional muted flourishes. The crackling “Thread” also features a budding momentum heightened by a weaving melody and Douglas’ passionate trumpet.

Recent events are the source material for the quietly insistent “Safeway,” a tribute to the victims of the January, 2011 shooting at a Tucson, Arizona supermarket parking lot. Waits’ brushwork forms a delicate wash while the unison horns flow their way through an elegiac melody. The ensemble brings a similar grace to an elegant interpretation of “Lush Life,” where trumpet and Waits’ brushes highlight a modest and soft melancholia which is supported by tuba, French horn and trombone. At the halfway mark, Bonilla takes the spotlight with a trombone solo accented with a Southern inflection and then Douglas comes forward again with another prominent improvisation. Douglas also does the honors on the lightly somber closer, “My Old Sign,” where his trumpet mimics a feeling of longing and nostalgia. The arrangement gradually builds as the ticking drums accelerate and the full band backs up Douglas, but the proceedings decelerate down again to a sedate and edifying ending with Waits’ plaintive brushes the final sound.

TrackList:  Town Hall; Night Growl; Lush Life; Thread; Safeway; My Old Sign

–Doug Simpson




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