Trumpeter Dave Douglas goes all-brassy and bold.

Dave Douglas with The Westerlies and Anwar Marshall – Little Giant Still Life [TrackList follows] – Greenleaf Music GRE-CD-1058, 53:11 [10/20/17] ****:

(Dave Douglas – trumpet, producer; Anwar Marshall – drums; The Westerlies: Riley Mulherkar – trumpet; Zubin Hensler – trumpet; Andy Clausen – trombone; Willem de Koch – trombone)

There are few trumpeters who would attempt an all-brass music project. Dave Douglas is that kind of musician. In 2009 Douglas released the debut of Brass Ecstasy, an ensemble which included a French horn, trombone, tuba, trumpet and one drummer. The nature of that work continues to stimulate Douglas. He’s returned to a similar pathway with the 53-minute Little Giant Still Life, which features Douglas on trumpet; drummer Anwar Marshall (who is part of Philadelphia’s Fresh Cut Orchestra) and The Westerlies (a former Seattle quartet now based in NYC) which consists of trumpeters Riley Mulherkar and Zubin Hensler, and trombonists Andy Clausen and Willem de Koch. The Westerlies have issued two albums (their sophomore outing was a tribute to fellow Seattleite Wayne Horvitz) and have collaborated with roots/Americana band Fleet Foxes.

Many of Douglas’ 12 originals on Little Giant Still Life (including the title track) were inspired by American artist Stuart Davis, a modernist painter known for his jazz-influenced, proto-pop art of the 1940s and 1950s which used bold, brash colors. Douglas’ compositions have the same sort of bright sheen and outward presentation as Davis’ artwork. There is a dynamic design suffusing the opener “Champion” (the title comes from Davis paintings reminiscent of Champion spark plug advertising). The brass quintet pushes out profuse phrases and themes while supported by Marshall’s snappish, detailed rhythms. Over the course of six minutes, the ensemble escalates to high apexes and to a quieter ebbing, advancing the main motif into interesting directions. The second track, “Arcade,” has an askew arrangement which employs eighth-note harmonies. “Arcade” (based on a 1930 Davis urban painting with a minimalist approach) bustles and has an intricacy only seasoned brass players could tackle with ease. Blues elements permeate several cuts, particularly on the five-minute title track, where the band takes a melodic hook and applies it to create a prominent piece. Douglas utilizes some scratchy trumpet enunciations which are accentuated by thick choruses from the Westerlies.

Davis’ Cubist period simmers through some of the material. The four-minute “Percolator” has a New Orleans-like vibe with restrained flow and a lightly comedic appeal, which echoes the understated and playful visual found in Davis’ 1927 painting of the same name. The four-minute “Colonial Cubism,” stimulated by a 1954 Davis abstract painting, conjoins a pre-war jazz configuration of stacked brass and an energetic bop slant emphasized by Marshall’s quickly-paced drums and forward-moving trumpet soloing. One of Davis’ most overt, jazz-tinted paintings is his 1938 masterwork, “Swing Landscape,” which captures the feeling someone might have while listening to a large jazz or swing band. Douglas and The Westerlies use the title to go a different direction. During the introduction, the musicians perform a sensitive passage heightened by Marshall’s tinkling cymbals, and his brushes on his toms. Bit by bit the arrangement progresses and builds from a relaxed deportment to something more vitalizing, with tinges of traditional jazz, blues and gospel intermingled within the arrangement. This isn’t swing music, but it does have a conventional jazz underpinning.

Not all tunes appear to have titles from Davis artwork. The shortest cut, the 2:39 “Bunting,” packs a lot into its length. The horns descend and then climb, the brassy notes tumbling as the phrases close, and the rhythm and tempo also is challenging. When the conclusion comes, it’s almost like heading to the edge and suddenly halting before dropping to a far surface. The group finishes with “Codetta” and “Worlds Beyond the Sky.” These are modest numbers, which have a nearly humble mannerism. During “Codetta” the trumpets and trombones go softly, as the music steps to a tender gait. There is a comparable sense of reflection and abatement during “Worlds Beyond the Sky,” where the unified horns introspectively glide atop Marshall’s refined percussion. Near the end, dissonance enters, which provides a modernist outlook which neatly summarizes everything about Little Giant Still Life.

Men and Machine
Little Giant Still Life
Your Special Day
Swing Landscape
The Front Page
Colonial Cubism
Worlds Beyond the Sky

—Doug Simpson