Dave Douglas, Chet Doxas, Steve Swallow, Jim Doxas; Uri Caine – Riverside and Present Joys [TrackList follows] – (Riverside) Greenleaf Music GRE-CD-1036, 62:24 [4/15/14] and (Present Joys) Greenleaf Music GRE-CD-1037, 42:31 [7/22/14] ****:
Riverside: (Dave Douglas – trumpet, co-producer; Chet Doxas – clarinet, saxophone, co-producer; Steve Swallow – electric bass; Jim Doxas – drums)
Present Joys: (Douglas – trumpet, producer; Uri Caine – piano)
Trumpeter, composer, band leader, label head, musical collaborator, educator, and podcaster Dave Douglas is a prolific, busy musician who always delivers projects which showcase his influences, inspirations and interests. This year, Douglas released two albums, via his Greenleaf label, which operate as tributes, and display two areas of American composition. The first outing is Riverside, issued in April. The 62-minute CD focuses on saxophonist-clarinetist Jimmy Giuffre, who passed away in 2008. The second recording, the 42-minute Present Joys, is homage to an older American musical form: the Sacred Harp songbook, a mostly vocal-singing style which dates back to the 1700s.
Instead of being a summary of Giuffre’s compositions, or a profile, Riverside is a tribute in a truer sense. Nine of the 11 tracks celebrate what Giuffre means to Douglas and his musical partner on this CD, clarinetist/saxophonist Chet Doxas. Only one piece was penned by Giuffre; and there is a standard which Giuffre performed during his career. Douglas and Doxas, who both reveal a love and appreciation for Giuffre’s work, are joined by Chet’s brother, drummer Jim Doxas, and electric bassist Steve Swallow (who was in one version of the Jimmy Giuffre 3). Giuffre was a stylistic marvel, who shifted from swing music (see Woody Herman’s Thundering Herd) to West Coast cool jazz (Giuffre was one of Howard Rumsey’s Lighthouse All-Stars), and later made groundbreaking, subtle-sided free jazz. Riverside offers this and more. Chet Doxas’ “Big Shorty” has a mini-big band tone which evokes both Giuffre’s swinging era but also the West Coast groove identified with Shorty Rogers (who was also in Herman’s ensemble and afterwards reorganized the Lighthouse All-Stars). The brassy interplay between Douglas and Doxas (on sax) during the promptly moving “Big Shorty” is fantastic to hear. The energy is just as high during a brief but rapid interpretation of Giuffre’s folk-ish “The Train and the River” (only 2:25 in length). The quartet is also splendid on some tunes which have some commonalty. Swallow is beautifully sublime on a two-minute solo intro which precedes Chet Doxas’ “Old Church, New Paint,” which has a hymn-like quality buttered by a blues tinge. Doxas admits “The blues is something that I consider whenever I play or write,” and this piece certainly has a Southern-laced blues feel.
Doxas and Douglas cover both sides of the fence with two interrelated cuts. On Doxas’ folk-and-free improv number “Front Yard,” his clarinet has a harmonious resonance juxtaposed against dissonant elements. Douglas’ “Backyard” is an impulsively friendly track which has a party ambiance: loose-limbed and a bit tipsy. The CD closes with two opposite realms: First, there is a bright translation of Young, Mercer and Mundy’s timeless “Travelin’ Light,” which Giuffre covered in various ways in his lifetime. And then there is Chet Doxas’ somber medley, “Sing on the Mountain High/Northern Miner,” where hand percussion, solemn sax, discreet trumpet and calmly edgy bass mesh into an affecting elegy. The medley’s latter half is slightly tenser, but no less vulnerable, similar to the sedate avant-garde material Giuffre did with his trios.
The ten-track duo endeavor, Present Joys (which came out in July), centers on a musical genre. Sacred Harp music is a uniquely American tradition of shape-note singing, which was passed down generation to generation and allowed groups of untrained and unrehearsed vocalists to make striking four-part harmonies. Douglas and pianist Uri Caine (the two have teamed up several times) are both fans of the music. The pair interprets five arrangements from Sacred Harp songbooks and Douglas wrote five, like-minded compositions. While the piano/trumpet music is modern, the tunes also afford a glimpse into a distant musical period either forgotten or never heard by some listeners.
Caine and Douglas begin with the gracious, uplifting “Soar Away,” which establishes how sophisticated the melodies are in this music and how the unusual harmonies can lead to some intricate phrasing. There is a comparable perspective during “Bethel,” which Douglas reharmonized into an involved, dirge-like creation. The turn-of-the-century underpinning is highlighted through Caine’s classically-inclined keyboard passages, while Douglas maintains a contemporary sheen via his trumpet. The title track is transformed into something jazzier. Douglas and Caine sculpt “Present Joys” into a bop-sparkled arrangement with a taste of the blues, and includes a witty quote from Charlie Parker’s “Now’s the Time.” Douglas’ originals attain related levels of sociability and unity. “Ham Fist” was prompted by the cooperation which goes into cooking a meal at home. Caine’s percussive notes specifically conjure the chopping and pounding of meats and vegetables in a kitchen, while Douglas’ trumpet also brings to mind the activity of culinary construction. Movement of another manner is called up during “Seven Seas,” where rolling piano chords replicate the sensation of sails unfurling and a wooden hull slicing through water. The entertaining “End to End” strings together several deceptive windups. The components support an illusory and playful effort where one false fanfare is followed by another. The album’s actual conclusion is the serious “Zero Hour,” a heartfelt cut which has a downcast but not discouraging characteristic.
Present Joys has an impeccable audio excellence which suits the sacrosanct tunes. Douglas and Caine utilized the Loove studio in Brooklyn. Caine states the studio’s Bösendorfer piano is “a great instrument with a wide array of sounds—a strong and imposing bass and a clear treble sound.” Engineer Tyler McDonald captured all aspects of the piano, as well as Douglas’ trumpet, by recording and mixing directly to two-track at a high-resolution sampling rate. The full dynamics of both instruments are lucidly and superbly exhibited.
Riverside = Thrush; The Train and the River; Old Church, New Paint (Intro); Old Church, New Paint; Handwritten Letter; Big Shorty; Front Yard; Backyard; No Good Without You; Travelin’ Light; Sing on the Mountain High/Northern Miner
Present Joys = Soar Away; Ham Fist; Bethel; Present Joys; Supplication; Seven Seas; Confidence; End to End; Old Putt; Zero Hour