High Risk – Dark Territory – Greenleaf Music

“Welcome to the future.”

High Risk – Dark Territory [TrackList follows] – Greenleaf Music GRE-CD-1049, 40:10 [7/8/16] ****:

(Dave Douglas – trumpet, producer; Jonathan Maron – electric and synth bass; Mark Guiliana – acoustic and electric drums; Shigeto – electronics)

Trumpeter Dave Douglas knows more than a bit about heading into unknown or new terrain. He makes that clear on Dark Territory, the sophomore release with his quintet dubbed High Risk, which includes Douglas, Jonathan Maron (electric and synth basses), acoustic and electric drummer Mark Guiliana and electronics music expert Shigeto (AKA Zachary Shigeto Saginaw). The 40-minute, seven-track album is an acute creation which blends avant-jazz with electronics and shadowy atmospherics. The title comes from Fred Kaplan’s 2016 book, Dark Territory: The Secret History of Cyber War, which quotes former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and his description of cyber espionage as a “dark territory” with no light, invisible enemies, and catastrophic consequences. The Dark Territory record has been issued as a compact disc, vinyl LP and as a digital download. This review refers to the CD configuration.

The sense of imminent danger, of possible threats on the horizon, can be felt on the nearly seven-minute opener, “Celine,” where Douglas’s healthy trumpet twirls above a haunting and repeating musical figure. For the most part, “Celine” is genial and amenable, but there is a hint of dimness which permeates the tune’s lower depths, predominantly due to Maron’s electric bass and Shigeto’s underlying digital effects. Toward the conclusion, the music veers closer to a futuristic zone, where the music has a dub and electronica sheen. A spookier course progresses during the unearthly “All the Pretty Horsepower,” which is replete with atypical sounds which include reverb-soaked digital beats, Douglas’ Miles Davis-like trumpet notes (think Davis’ early-70s period), hissing static, Guiliana’s electric drums and a skittering rhythmic flow from Maron and Guiliana. There are moments at the end, when the bass takes the spotlight, where the arrangement swerves toward an ambient dub path reminiscent of Bill Laswell’s Axiom record projects.

Shigeto is most recognized for his work in the EDM (electronic dance movement) genre. His contributions come to the forefront on the pop/dance-oriented “Let’s Get One Thing Straight,” which contains sampled voices, lots of digital beats and percussive components, and the feeling of technology ready to plunge the listener into terra incognito. Ancient maps once had a warning for unexplored areas, “Here there be monsters.” Douglas could use a related caveat for pieces such as “Let’s Get One Thing Straight,” since there is a convincing consciousness of proceeding into uncharted waters. The digital and acoustic ingredients meld in surprising ways during “Mission Acropolis.” The group maintains a lower-register foundation accentuated by Maron’s bass, Shigeto’s electronics and Guiliana’s liquid percussion. Douglas rides above the low-pitched music, utilizing an aural trumpet tone which is tinged and buffed by subtle studio effects. The Greek word acropolis combines two words which translate to “outermost” and “city,” and “Mission Acropolis” unquestionably unites both a tough urban drive with a spacey unconventionality.

The record’s energy level rises on the thumping “Ridge Hill,” where the foursome go headlong into a hyperactive vigor. Douglas’s trumpet is even more unexpectedly unusual on “Ridge Hill,” since he plugs his trumpet into an effects board (or something similar). While all of the material on Dark Territory is firmly in the 21st century, “Ridge Hill” goes even further, entering the next century, where there are no musical barriers, no genres, nothing familiar to grasp as a life jacket. Dark Territory finishes with the 6:20 “Loom Large,” which applies found sounds (some of which appear to come from a bowling alley and a basketball game) as a percussive layer. This isn’t as unrestrained as “Ridge Hill,” but sustains the ensemble’s destabilizing demeanor, the nearly hallucinatory quality which fills each track on Dark Territory. If Dark Territory had a covert commentary it would probably be, “Welcome to the future, the future is here, the future is now.”

TrackList: Celine; All the Pretty Horsepower; Let’s Get One Thing Straight; Mission Acropolis; Ridge Hill; Neural; Loom Large.

—Doug Simpson

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