Jazz CD Reviews
Dave Douglas – The Complete Remastered Recordings on Black Saint & Soul Note (2012) [10/22/12, 6-CD set] – CAM/KEPACH Music
Published on January 14, 2013
Dave Douglas – The Complete Remastered Recordings on Black Saint & Soul Note (2012) [10/22/12, 6-CD set] – CAM/KEPACH Music [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] BXS 1020, CD 1 (Parallel Worlds): 62:50, CD 2 (Five): 60:24, CD 3 (Convergence): 71:59, CD 4 (John Coltrane’s Ascension): 58:01, CD 5 (Bounce): 55:42, CD 6 (Force Green): 58:57 ****:
(Parallel Worlds: Dave Douglas – trumpet; Mark Feldman – violin; Mark Dresser – bass; Michael Sarin – drums)
(Five and Convergence: Dave Douglas – trumpet; Mark Feldman – violin; Erik Friedlander – cello; Drew Dress – bass; Michael Sarin – drums)
(John Coltrane’s Ascension: Jon Raskin, Steve Adams – alto saxophone; Larry Ochs, Bruce Ackley, Glenn Spearman – tenor saxophone; Dave Douglas, Raphe Malik – trumpet; George Cremaschi – bass (left channel); Lisle Ellis – bass (right channel); Chris Brown – piano; Donald Robinson – drums)
(Bounce: John Lindberg – bass; Dave Douglas – trumpet; Ed Thigpen – drums; Larry Ochs – saxophones)
(Force Green: Theo Bleckman – voice; Dave Douglas – trumpet; Denman Maroney – piano; Mark Dresser – bass; Phil Haynes – drums)
Fortune has smiled on Dave Douglas fans. Last summer, Douglas recirculated two of his older ventures, Magic Triangle (1998) and Leap of Faith (2000). Late in 2012, CAM/KEPACH Music reissued six remastered Black Saint/Soul Note albums with Douglas either as leader or as part of other ensembles. The boxed set, The Complete Remastered Recordings on Black Saint & Soul Note, features over six hours of music performed and/or written by Douglas, covering 1994 through 1998. This was a fertile and creative period for Douglas, with imaginative collaborations with artists ranging from violinist Mark Feldman to bassist John Lindberg, and music which consists of a restructuring of John Coltrane’s classic free-jazz jam Ascension to items which focus on worldwide violence and warfare.
Douglas had his breakthrough with his 1993 quartet project, Parallel Worlds (also Douglas’ Soul Note debut), with violinist Mark Feldman, bassist Mark Dresser and drummer Michael Sarin: at the time each was involved in New York City’s downtown, avantgarde music scene. Parallel Worlds has an experimentally-oriented self-assurance which showcases Douglas’ skills as composer and instrumentalist. In the early ‘90s, some of the music press had already hyped Douglas as the new jazz figure to notice, and on this session Douglas proves the critics correct. He never falters as he concocts swelling solos, higher-register trumpet intensity, and exciting musical accomplishments. Douglas isn’t all flourish, though. The music, which encompasses unconventional interpretations of Anton Webern (the quartet begins with “Sehr Bewegt,” which is the third of Webern’s Five Movements for String Quartet) and Duke Ellington (a frenzied take of “Loco Madi,” which is part of Ellington’s obscure long-form composition, The Uwis Suite) as well as seven Douglas originals which emphasize the quartet’s expert violin/drums/bass section. The pieces range from sinuous and dream-like (an open-ended and esoteric rendition of Kurt Weill’s “Ballad in Which MacHeath Asks Everyone to Forgive Him”) to dynamic cuts (the build-up during Douglas’ “For Every Action” defines tempestuous). Throughout the 62 minutes, Douglas and his group traverse from bop influences to free-rolling phases. Parallel Worlds demonstrates Douglas’ music is worth devoted examination, and at the time, loosened some minds to future possibilities.
Those potentials were broadened on Douglas’ fifth release, 1996’s Five, which expands Douglas’ group, his repertoire, and his compositional reach. Eight of the ten tracks are Douglas originals. Most of them honor friends, inspirations or fellow jazz artists. This was the second project with Douglas’ string quintet (Feldman, cellist Erik Friedlander, Sarin, and bassist Drew Dress). Alongside Douglas’ material are intriguing translations of Thelonious Monk’s “Who Knows,” and Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s “The Inflated Tear.” The Monk cut swings, but the strings provide a different temperament: the juxtaposition of trumpet, violin and cello furnishes an unusual, sometimes discordant quality. On the Kirk number, Douglas retains Kirk’s boldness and aural gesticulations: there are moments of dramatic clarity and then instances of chaotic concentration. During the course of the hour-long presentation, the musicians operate as peers, with intuitive interaction and improvised communication prevalent. The album’s apex is the nearly 14-minute “Actualities,” dedicated to Woody Shaw. The tune is aptly earmarked, since it has a forward-thinking approach comparable to Shaw’s 1970s-era, with harmonically intricate components which fuse post-bop, free jazz, and also has hints of fusion and modal jazz.
Douglas uses the same quintet on his 1999 record, Convergence, suitably named because 13 tracks (which total over 70 minutes) combine everything from chamber music and classical, to Jewish, Middle Eastern, and Eastern European themes within a musically adventurous, avant-garde configuration, which nevertheless does not abandon melodic development. Free-jazz naysayers might be surprised by the sheer musicality on pieces which vary from the initial offering, the too-brief, fast-paced “Chit Kyoo Thwe Tog Nyin Hmar Lar” (translated as “Will You Accept My Love or Not?”), based on a traditional Burmese folk song, to which Douglas adds Jewish music traces; to Olivier Messiaen’s “Desseins Eternals,” taken from Messiaen’s 1935 song-cycle La Nativité du Seigneur. Here, Douglas utilizes a chamber music-like arrangement which is closer in disposition to third stream music. Douglas also revisits Weill. He redoes “Bilbao Song” as a lengthy piece which is accessible but does not shy from exploration. Douglas also verifies he is not afraid of non-musical controversy. Geopolitical concerns pervade the Miles Davis-esque “Tzotzil Maya,” a tribute to the Chiapas, Mexico indigenous people: in 1997, 45 villagers were massacred in that region by para-military forces. There is a similar sympathy and organization to the somber “Collateral Damage,” which employs the euphemism as an acknowledgement of deaths on both sides of the conflict during the second Gulf War. Loss and remembrance are likewise accentuated during the dense, probing and unpredictable “Goodbye Tony,” an accolade to drummer Tony Williams.
The other three reissues are Douglas partnerships. The live 1995 concert document, John Coltrane’s Ascension, is (and conversely is not) what the title suggests. This performance, from a December 6, 1995 date at San Francisco’s Great American Music Hall, includes the Rova saxophone quartet (Larry Ochs and Bruce Ackley on tenor saxes; Steve Adams and Jon Raskin on alto saxes), with Glenn Spearman (who acts as concertmaster and is also on tenor sax), Douglas and Raphe Malik (who was in Cecil Taylor’s large band) on trumpet, pianist Chris Brown, two bassists (George Cremaschi and Lisle Ellis), and drummer Donald Robinson. This is not a recreation of Coltrane’s 1965 avant-garde opus, but rather a reconsideration of Coltrane’s conceptual framework, although Coltrane’s thematic supports are present. The CD opens with a seven-minute rendering of Coltrane’s “Welcome” (which can be found on Coltrane’s 1965 endeavor, Kula Sé Mama), with Ochs and the rhythm section. While Ochs does not match Coltrane’s warm passion, he and the piano, basses and drums hold to the lucidity which informed Coltrane’s version. The highpoint is the 50-minute, principally free improvisation, where the full collective goes toe-to-toe, head-to-head in a free-for-all. The musicians evoke, echo and elicit Coltrane’s raging deliberation. There is cacophony, and rasping saxes, and engulfing solos. Spearman and Malik develop resourceful declarations, although all of the horns (including Douglas) make memorable improvisations. There are no placid portions placed here.
While Douglas was just one voice amongst many on the Coltrane engagement, he is prominent on the John Lindberg Ensemble’s 1997 excursion, Bounce. Bassist Lindberg wrote all seven pieces, although there is much improvisational space. Since Douglas is the lone horn on approximately half the album, (saxophonist Ochs is on other cuts), the trumpet is often front and center. This hour-long undertaking stretches out hard bop/post-bop conventions into areas relatively unrestricted. The rhythm section is rounded out by drummer Ed Thigpen (famous for his days with Oscar Peterson), who is well-suited to the progressive material: particularly notable is a bass/drum combination during the opening four minutes of the elastic “Common Goal.” Highlights include the bass/trumpet pairing “Firewood Duet” (where Douglas brings to mind Lester Bowie); the multihued, trio number “The Terrace”; and the lively title track, a quartet trek stuffed with spontaneity and spirit.
Douglas hooks up with another bassist, Mark Dresser, on Dresser’s six-track, 1995 quintet presentation, Force Green. Douglas and Dresser are joined by singer Theo Bleckman (who sticks to wordless chanting and impromptu vocalizations, not genuine singing), pianist Denman Maroney and drummer Phil Haynes. By this time, Dresser was already known as an experimental, avant-garde composer, and those aspects appear on all of the material. From the get-go, it is clear Bleckman is an oral instrumentalist, his auditory effects mixed into the otherworldly material, which also involves Maroney’s sometimes manipulated keyboard (he intermittently bows or slides across the piano strings) and Douglas’ tone, which shifts from modernistic to traditional. While certain cuts are provocatively interesting, the music is also disconcerting, neither comfortable nor effortlessly digestible. Global events shape the darkly-shaded “Bosnia,” while Miles Davis’ silhouette heightens the lightly modal homage, “For Miles,” which is introduced with an unaccompanied trumpet. The climax is the 23-minute epic, “Castles for Carter,” which apparently balances through-composed segments with spur-of-the-moment portions. This prolonged achievement is demanding and probably best avoided except by those who like to partake in fragmented sonics which transmute from ambient to taunting informality.
This Douglas boxed set is designed for enthusiasts previously familiar with Douglas’ oeuvre, but who have not examined these specific titles. Considering the amount of music (over six hours), the price is good, but don’t expect extras: the six CDs are housed in cardboard slipcases with cover artwork on one side, and titles and credits on the reverse, packed in a small box with room only for the compact discs. There are no liner notes, booklets, photos or other additional supplements.
Parallel Worlds: Sehr Bewegt; Parallel Worlds; In Progress; Remains; Piece for Strings; Ballad in Which MacHeath Asks Everyone to Forgive Him; Loco Madi; On Your Leaving; For Every Action; Grand Choral.
Five: Invasive Procedure; Mirrors (for Steve Lacy); Going, Going (for Wayne Shorter); Seven (for Mark Dresser); Who Knows; The Inflated Tear; Actualities (for Woody Shaw); Knit Brow; Over Farrell’s (for John Cage); Mogador (for John Zorn)
Convergence: Chit Kyoo Thwe Tog Nyin Hmar Lar (Will You Accept My Love or Not?); Joe’s Auto Glass; Tzotzil Maya; Meeting at Infinity; Desseins Eternals; Bilbao Song; Border Stories: The Elaboration, The Exaggeration, Apocrphya; Collateral Damages; Goodbye Tony; Nothing Like You.
Rova: John Coltrane’s Ascension: Welcome; Ascension
John Lindberg Ensemble: Bounce: Firewood Duet; The Terrace; Bounce; Fortune on a Sphere; Common Goal; Eleven Thrice; Off Right
Mark Dresser: Force Green: Flocus; Force Cuisine; Ediface; Bosnia; For Miles; Castles for Carter (J.C./Chain/Armadillo/Coda)