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Dave Douglas and Frank Woeste – Dada People – Greenleaf

Making music for Man Ray’s masterful art.

Dave Douglas and Frank Woeste – Dada People [TrackList follows] – Greenleaf GRE-CD-1051, 63:14 [10/14/16] ****:

(Dave Douglas – trumpet, co-producer; Frank Woeste – piano, Fender Rhodes, co-producer; Matt Brewer – bass; Clarence Penn – drums)

Want to appreciate an artist’s efforts in a fresh way? Then try experiencing a person’s creativity filtered through another artist’s imagination. That’s the impetus behind the hour-long Dada People, the collaboration by trumpeter Dave Douglas and keyboardist Frank Woeste, alongside bassist Matt Brewer and drummer Clarence Penn. Douglas and Woeste set about penning music which offers a musical viewpoint focusing on famed artist Man Ray, who fashioned paintings, photography, “ready-mades” and other artistic endeavors (both commercial and non-commercial) and was a significant contributor to the Dada and Surrealist movements, though not formally a member of those groups.

The ten original tracks (which are credited equally: five Douglas and five Woeste compositions) impart audio portraits but not always directly related to Man Ray’s creative output. Douglas states the material deliberately engages in the “spirit of mischievousness, of play, of mystery, and also of the ‘play of identity’ within the work of Ray and his circle.” That sphere of friends and compatriots can be comprehended on the six-minute opener, Douglas’ “Oedipe,” which makes allusion to composer Erik Satie (whom Man Ray knew while in France). “Oedipe” doesn’t mimic Satie, but Douglas’ nostalgic and forlorn-tinted trumpet notes are nicely balanced with Woeste’s minimalist (somewhat Satie-stimulated) piano chords. That’s followed by Woeste’s harmonically liberated “Mains Libres.” The dynamic piece borrows its title from “Les Mains libres” by Paul Éluard (one of the founders of the Surrealist movement), which was a 1938 project which linked Man Ray drawings with Éluard’s poetry. There is an enigmatic and allusive quality to Woeste’s “Montparnasse,” a noir-ish and darkly evocative track which conjures Ray’s muse (and often his nude model) Alice Prin, nicknamed “Queen of Montparnasse.” Woeste swaps to Fender Rhodes electric piano for the lightly funky “Noire et Blanche” (translation: “Black and White”), also inspired by Prin, specifically Man Ray’s 1926 photo which shows Prin posing with an African ceremonial mask.

Not all of the cuts are explicit to Man Ray’s friends, artwork or associations. Douglas’ darting “Spork” has a contemporary and upbeat approach where Woeste again switches to Fender Rhodes, which delivers a soulful undercurrent, while Douglas soars atop the arrangement with his higher-register trumpet notes. Douglas’ “Transparent” interlaces poise and fluidity, starting in a stylish and nuanced direction and gradually moving toward abstracted and impactful improvisation. The quartet concludes with the invigorating, keen “Danger Dancer,” where Woeste shifts between both Fender Rhodes and acoustic piano, Brewer provides a plunky bass solo, and the musical sparks fly throughout. While one can enjoy Dada People without illustrative reinforcement, it’s worth spending some time listening to this music while investigating Man Ray’s work via book, Internet or museum.

TrackList: Oedipe; Mains Libres; Spork; Montparnasse; Transparent; Art of Reinvention; Emergent; Noire et Blanche; Longings and Illusions; Danger Dancer

—Doug Simpson

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