Riverside – The New National Anthem – Greenleaf Music 

by | Oct 12, 2017 | Jazz CD Reviews

Riverside – The New National Anthem [TrackList follows] – Greenleaf Music GRE-CD-1056, 43:07 47:20 [6/16/17] ****:

A one-of-a-kind tribute to Carla Bley.

(Dave Douglas – trumpet, co-producer, executive producer; Chet Doxas – clarinet, saxophone, co-producer; Steve Swallow – electric bass; Jim Doxas – drums)

Trumpeter, composer and label head Dave Douglas is someone who won’t let a good thing disappear. In 2014, he formed Riverside, a quartet with tenor saxophonist and clarinetist Chet Doxas, electric bassist Steve Swallow and drummer Jim Doxas. The foursome’s self-titled debut focused on Jimmy Giuffre. Unlike typical tributes, though, Riverside included music from Giuffre’s repertoire alongside compositions written by Riverside which were inspired by Giuffre. Riverside is back and their sophomore album, the 47-minute The New National Anthem, concentrates on pianist Carla Bley, who is Swallow’s longtime partner. Aptly, only three pieces are by Bley, the other eight are originals kindled by Bley’s personality, spirit and musical outlook. There are six cuts by Douglas, one by Chet Doxas and one penned by Swallow.

The four open with the title track, the 1:21 “The New National Anthem,” from Gary Burton’s 1967 LP, A Genuine Tong Funeral, which featured Bley compositions (Swallow was also involved in that project). In this day and age, the desire for a new, modern American anthem is still as vital as it was in the turbulent late-1960s, and Riverside plugs into Bley’s quintessence and the tune’s defiant disposition. “The New National Anthem” flows into Douglas’ “Old Country,” which surges with vibrant, peppered horn lines stimulated by Doxas’ incisive percussion and Swallow’s absorbing bass. Douglas takes the first solo, and then Doxas amplifies the tune’s demeanor with soaring sax. “Old Country” has a collective perception which highlights the group’s interaction and communication. Douglas blends his music with Bley’s once again with the two-for-one “King Conlon” and Bley’s “King Korn,” which was initially heard on Paul Bley’s 1963 LP, Footloose! Paul Bley and other jazz artists have adopted this tune since, including Carla Bley and Steve Swallow (it can be found on their duo concert document, 1999’s Are We There Yet?).  Douglas states that while he was learning and practicing “King Korn,” he started “turning it upside down and backwards and putting all the notes in a bag and shaking the bag and then pulling them out and throwing them at the page.” The result reminded Douglas of contemporary composer Conlon Nancarrow. “King Conlon” has a sharp, vigorous theme which Douglas uses for a memorable solo over dynamic bass and drums. For his improvised segment, Doxas changes to clarinet, and the quartet once more displays an uncanny interplay. The brief 1:51 “King Korn” has a similar rapport with Doxas on clarinet and Douglas fluctuating between punchy trumpet lines and bop-ish assertions. The final Bley cover is a reworking of the cabaret-styled “Enormous Tots,” from Bley’s 1974 record, Tropic Appetites. Bley’s version set poet Paul Haines’ text to music. Douglas wisely ditches the poetics and spotlights Bley’s swirling quirkiness and impetuous humor, although the band does yell “You’ll be glad you did!” at one point early in the five-minute tune.

Swallow’s contribution, the serene ballad “Never Mind,” is the album’s most decorous and charming composition. Swallow deliberately wrote something which would accentuate three melodic voices: Douglas’ trumpet, Doxas’ sax and the drums. Swallow lays back more so on this than other pieces, letting the horns intertwine with coiling wonderment, while Jim Doxas creates an expressive rhythmic foundation. Chet Doxas is no slouch as a writer, either. The quietly swinging “View from a Bird” launches with Swallow’s solo electric bass and then the tune develops into a medium tempo number, with graceful sax and trumpet, Jim Doxas’ restrained brushwork, and a slight Latin American tinge. Two of Douglas’ tracks have Spanish titles, but are not Latin jazz cuts. “Il Sentiero,” which translates into English as “The Path,” has a winding and multi-tiered pose. At first there is a bit of Ornette Coleman in its structure (Douglas’ trumpet and Doxas’ sax echo Don Cherry and Coleman), and then a softer, pop-tinted ambiance arrives, and toward the end, a Southern, Dixie-fried briskness escalates the whole thing. If Douglas meant to convey Bley’s sense of musical playfulness, he succeeded. Riverside concludes with Douglas’ nearly seven-minute “Americano,” which has burly energy heightened by Douglas’ elevated trumpet, an exultant groove, and Swallow’s persuasive electric bass. If you’re a fan of Douglas and/or Bley, then listening to The New National Anthem is sure-win.

The New National Anthem
Old Country
Never Mind
King Conlon
King Korn
View from a Bird
Enormous Tots
Il Sentiero
If I Drift

—Doug Simpson

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