Jazz CD Reviews

Dave Douglas – Greenleaf Portable Series Vol. 2: Orange Afternoons – Greenleaf

More of Douglas’ multihued material performed by a one-time ensemble that focuses on spontaneity and finesse.

Published on November 21, 2011

Dave Douglas – Greenleaf Portable Series Vol. 2: Orange Afternoons – Greenleaf

Dave Douglas – Greenleaf Portable Series Volume 2: Orange Afternoons [download 8/31/11, CD 11/22/11] – Greenleaf Music, 49:04 ****:

(Dave Douglas – trumpet, producer; Ravi Coltrane – saxophone; Vijay Iyer – piano; Linda Oh – bass; Marcus Gilmore – drums)

Trumpeter Dave Douglas continues his Greenleaf Portable Series (also known as GPS) with his all-star quintet project Orange Afternoons. Like the other three albums in the Three Views GPS series, Orange Afternoons (the second release in the series) was initially obtainable as an online-only purchase. When it was offered in August, 2011 it jumped to the number one ranking on iTunes jazz chart and caused a buzz in jazz circles. Orange Afternoons is now available as part of a deluxe, three-CD box set which collects the three 2011 GPS undertakings (Rare Metals, Orange Afternoons and Bad Mango) along with a collection of session photos. A separate, promo-only CD of Orange Afternoons was used for this review.

For his second GPS volume Douglas put together a one-time-only team: Douglas on trumpet; saxophonist Ravi Coltrane; pianist Vijay Iyer; bassist Linda Oh; and drummer Marcus Gilmore. Douglas brought in six new compositions which share a 1960s Blue Note post-bop style, reminiscent of Art Blakey, Jackie McLean and others who popularized jazz during the Kennedy/Johnson era. Besides the stylistic sound which hearkens back to an earlier period, the musicians also provide a sense of jazz legacy. Ravi Coltrane is a recognized solo musician in his own right but is also the son of jazz icon John Coltrane. Drummer Marcus Gilmore has made inroads in the NYC jazz scene (he is currently in Vijay Iyer’s trio), but is also the grandson of famed drummer Roy Haynes. Iyer is a forward-thinking modernist with several solo releases; while Oh has a VC which includes performances with Kenny Barron, Cyrus Chestnut and others.  Fans should note, however, these performers do not replicate what they typically play as solo artists, rather this is a five-piece ensemble which interacts as a cohesive unit which coalesces around Douglas’ creativity.

When Douglas went into a Brooklyn studio in March, 2011 for the one-day Orange Afternoons session, he seems to have come prepared with some Italian influences, exemplified by a three-tune triptych in the middle of Orange Afternoons. First there is the friendly, mid-tempo “Valori Bollati” (which is Italian for revenue stamps, but also the name of a young Italian jazz band). During the sparse arrangement, trumpet and sax initially trade riffs as they build the melody in the intro, then Douglas takes the first solo spot with single-note minimalism, followed by Coltrane’s flowing improvisation. Iyer breaks the mold more so than the others during his solo section, which has a staccato quality. Oh dispenses with her pop and rock inclinations when she provides a beautiful bass solo akin to Ron Carter at his most elegiac. “Solato” can be translated from Italian as salad or salty (if used as an adjective), and certainly there is both a crispness and a spicy flavor which glides through “Solato,” particularly when Coltrane and Iyer go out to the ether during their solo excursions. The eight-minute piece showcases Douglas’ compositional flair as well as the group’s ability to stretch out into grounded avant-garde territory. The final track of the Italian-inclined centerpiece section is “Orologi,” which is an Italian plural noun for watches, clocks or any timekeeping instruments. The nearly 12-minute cut is the most freely fluent work, where there is an impression of purposeful drift: the band changes directions during the lengthy improvised parts but never loses focus. The rhythmic course constantly alters, just like a timepiece with the second hand pushing along to its own pulse.

There is a warm tenderness which underlines the balladic title track. Douglas, Coltrane and Iyer all take turns as the lead while the rhythm section maintains a cozy route. Douglas mutes his trumpet in a slightly Miles Davis-like approach while Coltrane performs with an affection which may remind some of Lester Young or Ben Webster. There is also a subtle sensitivity during the beginning of “The Gulf,” where the two horns duet as one instrumental voice as the arrangement steadily transforms from traditionalism to modernism while intricate chord progressions and variable tempos curve the piece from familiarity to something unusual. That essence of the past and the present coming together is what fuels Orange Afternoons and gives this 49-minute outing an expressive characteristic.

TrackList:  The Gulf; Valori Bollati; Solato; Orologi; Orange Afternoons; Frontier Justice

—Doug Simpson




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