Dave Douglas
Kozmigroov Albums
The Infinite [RCA, 2002]
Freak In [Bluebird, 2003]
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Trumpeter Dave Douglas is in a Miles Davis mood on The Infinite, the first album by his New Quintet. And Douglas seems to have settled on a particularly appropriate phase of Davis' recorded legacy for inspiration: the era marked by a departure from post-bop and entrance into fusion, circa 1968 and 1969. In particular, The Infinite recalls 1968's Miles in the Sky and Filles de Kilimanjaro, which introduced electric keyboards into the sound of Davis' second classic quintet. These two Davis LPs are apt touchstones for Douglas because they, like much of his own recorded output, represent the exciting potential of something new under the jazz sun, a break from the past, the crossing of boundaries, and the discovery of new hybrid forms. Two of the most memorable Davis-influenced pieces, the title track and "Deluge," feature assertive, angular phrasing from Douglas and tenor saxophonist Chris Potter in the thematic passages, which contrast effectively with ethereal comping from Uri Caine on Fender Rhodes and bassist James Genus' insistent pulse. As usual, Douglas gets tremendous performances from his bandmates, who navigate his charts with grace, feeling, and the sensitivity to not overwhelm the material. Drummer Clarence Penn (unlike the others appearing for the first time on a Douglas CD) deserves mention for his mastery of shifting dynamics, sometimes suggesting the oxymoronic concept of a subtle thrashing. Meanwhile, the leader's trumpet seems to get stronger with every outing; Douglas' tone is warm and full on the ballads and his control impeccable on the up-tempo numbers, as his lines gather energy and explode into glissing upper-register squeals. Yet The Infinite maintains a certain understated quality that brings the listener back to that Miles Davis vibe from the end of the '60s. It would be inaccurate to suggest that Douglas is in copycat mode, however; his own personality remains strong, certainly in his own playing but also in his writing and arranging, which can be ingeniously deceptive by masking compositional density with a floating, airy quality. The nine-plus-minute "Penelope," for example, moves through various scored and improvised passages like some of Douglas' more ambitious String Group or Sextet works, while also suggesting the dreamlike qualities of Davis' In a Silent Way album from 1969. Despite all its strengths, there is a slight air of calculation on The Infinite: By also covering tunes by Rufus Wainwright, Mary J. Blige, and Björk instead of the jazz icons to whom the trumpeter more often pays homage, Douglas seems to be aiming at a pop/rock audience and invites comparison to an entirely different Miles Davis period -- the 1980s, when Davis covered Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time." Yet on Wainwright's "Poses" and Björk's "Unison" (both featuring some lovely bass clarinet counterpoint from Potter), Douglas finds avenues for some of his most lyrical playing and arranging on the disc. Overall, The Infinite is a strong debut release from Douglas' New Quintet. Those with tastes tending toward post-bop and pre-fusion jazz should find much to like here, with the album perhaps serving as an entry point to the trumpeter's more chance-taking endeavors.
[ Dave Lynch]