Dave Douglas & So Percussion – Greenleaf Portable Series Volume Three: Bad Mango [download 10/11/11; CD 11/22/11] – Greenleaf Music, 35:36 ***1/2:
(Dave Douglas – trumpet, producer; Eric Beach – Estey pump organ, Ableton sequencer, musical saw, toys, metronomes, shruti box, crotales; Adam Sliwinski – marimba, toys, concert bass drum, glockenspiel; Jason Treuting – drumset, melodica, deskbells; Josh Quillen – Korg synthesizer, vocoder, kick drum, snare drum, ride cymbal)
Bad Mango is trumpeter/composer Dave Douglas’ eclectic collaboration with the rhythm quartet So Percussion and is the third volume of Douglas’ Greenleaf Portable Series (otherwise known as GPS). Previous volumes include Rare Metals (a brass-and-drums endeavor) and Orange Afternoons (a quintet outing with Ravi Coltrane, Vijay Iyer and others). With Bad Mango, Douglas expands his wide-ranging compositional and performance styles, combining his sometimes yearning trumpet atop a percussion/electronic bedrock which utilizes traditional instruments (organ, marimba, synth, snare drum) with exotic paraphernalia (musical saw, toys, handmade rhythm devices). Bad Mango is available for digital download or as part of a deluxe, three-CD box set which collects the three 2011 GPS undertakings (Rare Metals, Orange Afternoons and Bad Mango) along with a collection of session photos. A separate, promo-only CD of Bad Mango was used for this review.
One reason Douglas is such an innovative artist is his open-mindedness: his music encompasses a spectrum of influences, from Eastern European folk to Tom Waits, and from Lester Bowie to North African inspirations. Douglas’ inclination to try so many different things has made for many exploratory projects: Bad Mango is no exception. So Percussion, noted for interpretations of contemporary classical composers such as Steve Reich, David Lang and John Cage, is a perceptive partnership choice. The quartet supplies inventiveness and imagination to Douglas’ seven originals. Bad Mango opens with an incisive version of “One More News,” produced in a post-bop mannerism a decade ago on Douglas’ 2001 record, Witness. Here, Douglas lengthens the tune and offers a soaring and searing Miles Davis-esque trumpet tone while a myriad of percussive elements churn and crash around and beneath him. Douglas also remakes the title track from Witness, which commences with austere percussion and Eric Beach’s mournful Estey pump organ. Douglas lets the piece gradually breathe and move and allows So Percussion to fully populate the arrangement. Douglas does not enter until three minutes in. When he does, “Witness” modifies to an ascending construction, lifted by Douglas’ trumpet and a swiftly accelerated beat. Like life itself, “Witness” circles back to the beginning again to softly close with subtle glockenspiel and tender trumpet.
Douglas also reinvents material he penned for his Tiny Bell Trio. The woeful “One Shot” was initially recorded with trumpet, drums and acoustic guitar for Douglas’ 1999 release, Songs for Wandering Souls. Here, Douglas renders the textural piece with trumpet as the main voice and melancholy percussion and electronics as the responsive counter accent. While Douglas contributes a blues-tinged sound, the members of So Percussion layer electronic flourishes alongside resonant and/or ringing rhythmic components such as bass drum, toms and handmade implements.
Douglas’ newer work is also compelling but is not pitched toward traditional jazz fans. The album’s title track adds eerie electronics, whispered percussion (including bells) and a forlorn form, resulting in an atmospheric mood similar to percussion duo Loop 2.4.3. Josh Quillen’s Korg synthesizer glides under Douglas’ timbered trumpet, while doubled drums and occasional scratched percussion furnish a multihued foundation: the outcome is like a clockwork soundtrack with an imagistic underscore. One of the weaker efforts is the avant-garde “Nome,” which exploits found sounds and has a childlike, adlibbed feel. Equally unconventional and slightly better is “Spider,” where So Percussion showcases a tight coordination with the use of scattered rhythms while Douglas displays an expressive minimalist quality. The concluding “Time Leveler” is another progressive percussion piece with odd rhythmic variations and Douglas’ Lester Bowie-ish trumpet. Like “Nome” and “Spider,” this is the sound of surprise, with a loose, kinetic and fractured nature. Anyone searching for swing should steer clear.
TrackList: One More News; Bad Mango; Nome; Witness; Spider; One Shot; Time Leveler
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