Dave Douglas – High Risk [TrackList follows] – Greenleaf Music GRE-CD-1042, 40:57 [6/23/15] ****1/2:
(Dave Douglas – trumpet, producer; Jonathan Maron – electric and synth bass; Mark Guiliana – acoustic and electric drums; Shigeto – electronics)
If jazz fans want to keep abreast of the confluence of acoustic jazz and electronics (i.e., electro-acoustic jazz)—the creative nexus where brass, wood, sticks, ivory keys and other acoustic components balance against loops, beats and digital sound—then trumpeter Dave Douglas is one of the artists you should listen to. Douglas is a well-rounded composer, arranger, improviser and performer. One area he continues to find stimulating is the melding of jazz with electronic elements. He’s done some intriguing work related to this sphere on previous releases such as Spark of Being (2010), Moonshine (2008) and Freak In (2003). For his latest outing, the 40-minute High Risk, Douglas formed a new quartet with acoustic and electric drummer Mark Guiliana (Douglas and Guiliana first performed together on a project with saxophonist Donny McCaslin); electric and synth bassist Jonathan Maron (founding member of acid-jazz group Groove Collective) and Zachary Saginaw aka Shigeto (an electronic music producer). Maron and Douglas initially crossed paths in the ‘90s and Douglas met Shigeto in 2014 when they shared a stage at a multi-genre musical event. From those connections, High Risk was born. High Risk is not just the magic of four musicians in a studio. Recording engineer Geoff Countryman (who has done board work on other Douglas CDs) meticulously captured the acoustic and electronic portions (Douglas did four months of pre-production to prepare for the one-day session). And mixing engineer Steve Wall was an important contributor, since he did four months of detailed post-production. The result is live improvisation fused with integrated sound manipulation, effects, and other digital/audio realizations.
The seven tracks offer a spontaneous and layered interplay between trumpet, bass, drums and electronics. Everything is part of one expressive experience. The music outwardly modifies and changes, but there is an overall flow and continuity, despite fluctuating constituents. The opener, “Molten Sunset,” commences with Maron’s slowly pulsing bass, Guiliana’s shadowy percussion, and Douglas’ iridescent trumpet. Shigeto’s shimmering electronics traverse as a foundation, with ambient samples, organized sounds and improvised groove. The 7:32 piece has an attribute of mystery amid a fractured funk template. “Molten Sunset” is both edgy and carries a skewed calmness. At other times during High Risk, Douglas and his cohorts craft an ominous stance, such as during the relatively brief “First Things First,” which has a digitized mannerism of menace, intensified by punctuated beats which seem to start and stop at uneven times, as if microscopic slices were taken out of the mix. This is jazz from a futuristic landscape of shaded silhouettes. The 6:22 title track echoes the moodiness of “Molten Sunset” with the SF/funk structure of “First Things First.” The music is dramatic and ascends to a precarious prominence. There’s a feeling things may collapse, but the quartet holds focus, even as the trumpet hits higher notes, the beats and loops attain a tottering inclination and the bass and drums establish an unsettling rhythmic base.
Douglas typically has a bright tone and a welcoming timbre, but through the mixing process his trumpet is also sometimes furnished a ghostly impression. This occurs during the textural “Tied Together.” The almost hallucinatory trumpet helps amplify the cut’s electronic-slanted suspension. The bass and drums, alongside the overt post-production audio-shaping, fashions a soundscape similar to what bassist/producer Bill Laswell has done on some of his records. Douglas closes with the contemplative and refined “Cardinals,” where Maron’s reflective bass lines commingle with Douglas’ musing trumpet. Low-key electronics stream beneath most of the piece, while Guiliana supplies a minimalist beat, one tick at a time. Douglas summarizes his project by stating, “The biggest element is this meeting of the worlds; an openness and willingness to put everything at risk.” On High Risk, Douglas escalates the idea of electro-acoustic jazz to a greater plane of improvisation, and listeners who hear his music will appreciate how far along the symbolic high wire Douglas has gone.
TrackList: Molten Sunset; Household Item; Etiquette; First Things First; High Risk; Tied Together; Cardinals.