Dave Douglas – Magic Triangle & Leap of Faith [2-CD set] (2012) – Greenleaf GRE1025, CD 1 (Magic Triangle): 56:37, CD 2 (Leap of Faith): 64:23 [6/5/12] ****:
(Dave Douglas – trumpet, producer; Chris Potter – tenor saxophone; James Genus – bass; Ben Perowsky – drums)
Trumpeter Dave Douglas has staked out quite a career. His broad range has encompassed avant-garde, post-bop, free jazz, fusion and he has utilized samples and beats, and modern classical elements. Since his start in the 1980s he has been a member of groups such as John Zorn’s Masada; Myra Melford’s The Same River, Twice; the avant-prog band Doctor Nerve; and several others. But Douglas has made his largest impression as a solo artist and leader, with approximately 40 albums under his belt, on labels like Koch, DIW and Winter & Winter. Since 2003 he’s put out new material and reissued some of his back catalog on his own Greenleaf imprint. Douglas’ latest reissue project is a boxed set of two remastered albums he recorded with his more avant Dave Douglas Quartet: Magic Triangle (first offered by Arabesque in 1998) and Leap of Faith (a 2000 effort on the same label). For those who may have missed these two fine records, this is a good time to reevaluate the music Douglas created with tenor saxophonist Chris Potter, bassist James Genus and drummer Ben Perowsky. This double-disc package, housed in a two-CD digipak, is also available as a digital download and can also be purchased with a sheet music book. This review refers to the two-CD standalone release.
Douglas’ extensive, diverse styles and inspiration spans Eastern European folk music influences to modern creative improvisation as well as the other components listed above, but here Douglas focuses on original compositions which swing with a post-bop characteristic, although the 20 tunes are distinct, idiosyncratic and often embark into unfamiliar terrain. The 56-minute-long Magic Triangle commences with “Everyman,” an energetic wind-up where Potter and Douglas progress through vigorous molten lines while Genus and Perowsky lay down a persuasive, unconventional rhythmic undertow. Douglas is in first-rate form as he drives forward with fertile melodic strokes. The quartet shows a wide emotional palette on “Padded Cell,” a twisting and curving piece which brings to mind Ornette Coleman. Passions vent, subside, and quicken again, while the tempo transforms continually. Inside this constructed brainteaser Genus takes a breather with a low-key bass solo, but ultimately the turmoil prevails. Another upbeat, upfront track is the fitful “Coaster,” where sax and trumpet collaborate in interesting ways reminiscent of Coleman and Don Cherry, and Perowsky is afforded the opportunity to showcase the full effect of his drum kit during a solo stab. On the flip side, the foursome imparts a tender tone during the faintly mournful “Kisangani,” possibly named after the capital city of the Congo republic. Douglas and Potter develop a defined yet spontaneous interplay underscored by Genus’ soft bass and Perowsky’s subtle brushes and cymbals. On this cut, Douglas’ sensitive timbre echoes Miles Davis’ intimate calm.
On the 64-minute Leap of Faith, the ensemble refines, re-navigates and reshapes the looseness and openness of liberated improvisation with the required needs of written composition. The lengthy title track is a fiery bop-inclined vehicle with a stormy foundation: Douglas is often blistering and forceful, but Potter also holds nothing back when he takes flight during an extended solo. “Millennium Bug” (appropriate for 2000, but we all know what happened to that non-event) is fronted by kaleidoscopic and edgy rhythms: Perowsky presents a beat which sometimes slides into an electronica-stirred groove which is both blazing and outside of the norm. The quartet once again exhibits a gentle outlook during the generally straightforward but still slightly unusual “Mistaken Identity.” The brief, animated “Emmenthaler” (a specific type of Swiss cheese) has a Mel Blanc-meets-P. D. Q. Bach quality, where instruments start, stop, start, stop and trumpet and sax make uncommon blasts. The similarly-fashioned “Guido’s High Note” and “Western Haiku” also have lopsided, humorous aspects which prove Douglas and his cohorts have an oddball wit. The Douglas/Potter two-horn salvo is vividly captured on another swinging post-bop cooker, the closing “Euro Disney,” which also includes a few bites of levity, and which verifies one thing: Douglas may be a seriously good player and a serious composer, but that doesn’t mean he can’t have fun with his music.
CD 1: Everyman; Magic Triangle; Padded Cell; Circular; Kisangani; Barrage; Odalisque; Coaster; The Ghost.
CD 2: Caterwaul; Leap of Faith; Another Country; Millennium Bug; Emmenthaler; Mistaken Identity; Guido’s High Note; Continental Divide; Igneous; Western Haiku; Euro Disney.
Pure Pleasure Records releases a re-mastered live vinyl of a great tenor saxophonist.