Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Dave Douglas Cooks Something Up So Good It's Illicit

A little while ago I wrote a review of Bill Frisell's "History, Mystery" in which I said that his consistency from album to album was matched only by Brad Mehldau; I would like to append Dave Douglas to that group. In fact, I would go so far as to say Dave Douglas is even more consistent, and more consistently adventurous, if only because his recent output has been so much more frequent and varied than Mehldau's, and his sideman work so much more frequent and varied than Frisell's. Don't get me wrong, this isn't a knock to Bill Frisell of Brad Mehldau; both are brilliant musicians. That said, though, looking at Allmusic.com, you realize that out of his twenty seven albums, Dave Douglas has only recieved lower than four stars on three of them. "Moonshine," Douglas' new live album with the group that recorded the brilliant "Keystone" a few years ago, continues with this dazzling consistency, and is just as adventurous as anything else by Douglas.

A major fear I had initially before listening to this album was that without the amount of post-production work that was done on "Keystone" (one of the great jazz-electronica albums along with Vijay Iyer and Mike Ladd's "In What Language?," Kurt Rosenwinkel's "Heartcore" and Kenny Werner's "Lawn Chair Society") the Keystone band would either fall apart, or lose what made the first album so distinctive. I had always been curious to hear how a band from one of the jazz-electronica albums would manage to make the music work live; Douglas' approach is simple: the songs are looser, and the DJ (DJ Olive) is simply a fully integrated member of his band. The only song in which DJ Olive really comes to the fore is on "Flood Plane," which turns into a duet between a sample of George W. Bush saying the word "terrorism" and Douglas mournfully playing his trumpet. While the political motivation is obvious, the idea of Douglas dueting with a DJ is much more interesting. His reaction to the samples is inspired, and DJ Olive's selection of an Islamic singer for another sample fits Douglas' somber tone perfectly.

The other members are also just as inspired when working either with samples of simply playing with an essentially normal, hip-hop inspired jazz quintet. Keyboardist Adam Benjamin does some extremely cool stuff rhythmically to fit Olive's samples; on "Married Life" he plays one of the dirtiest, funkiest riffs I've ever heard on a jazz record. Marcus Strickland, who plays saxophone, trades off with Douglas on "Kitten," a bad-ass metal track.

The best song on the album, and the one that contains the most interesting solos, is the closer "Tough" ("as in 'too bad'," Douglas helpfully states in the liner notes), an old-school hip-hop jam where everyone in the band gets a chance to play for a while. Douglas' opening lick is classic; it's too funky to describe let alone equal, although his use of false fingerings in a passage later on in his solo comes close. Strickland plays a knotty solo that recalls Greg Osby at his most lyrical. Drummer Gene Lake plays a technically accomplished, killin' drum solo (one of very few on this album). Even DJ Olive takes a chorus, using samples of drums and shouting to build the song to it's climax.

"Moonshine" isn't a "great" album in the way that "Keystone" and few other albums are, but it kills, and it's definitely worth a listen if you can find it. Everybody plays their ass off, and "Tough" is probably the best track for your 80s hip-hop theme party that jazz has to offer. Recommended for people who like to dance and people who like Dave Douglas.

Next time I'll do a double review of Jenny Scheinman's two killer new albums. One of them has vocals. And barely any violin. But it's pretty brilliant.

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