Dave Douglas Quintet Release 'Brazen Heart,' on Greenleaf Music [REVIEW]

By Mike Greenblatt m.greenblatt@classicalite.com | Oct 16, 2015 11:40 AM EDT
Dave Douglas (Photo : Courtesy Fully Altered Media)

Trumpeter/composer Dave Douglas has over 40 CDs to his credit as a leader. He's traversed classical, folk, Balkan music, Klezmer, free improvisation and electronica. He's composed over 400 pieces of music, received a Guggenheim Fellowship, an Aaron Copland Award, Grammy nominations and a grant from the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation. He's taken inspiration from literature, politics, dance, film and personal tragedy. (His 2012 Be Still was for his mom.) Now comes Brazen Heart (on his own Greenleaf label) and again, it is informed by the death of a loved one (older brother Damon died in June).

Brazen Heart is his third CD with his all-star quintet, filled with leaders in their own right. Tenor saxophonist Jon Irabagon, pianist Matt Mitchell, bassist Linda Oh and drummer Rudy Royston fill out the group. As on their 2013 Time Travel CD, the very concept of soloing is partially erased. As he wrote in the liner notes to that album, "rather than just taking turns soloing on a form, we want to find something that's in-between soloing and trading and playing together." To that end, the two (out of 11) covers, "Deep River" and "There Is A Balm In Gilead," spirituals both, have Oh taking the lead on bass, which she does plaintively yet provocatively.

For his 50th birthday, Douglas got the bright idea to gig in all 50 states. Much of the music on Brazen Heart was written on that mammoth 2013 tour. The only state he missed was Hawaii so on "Hawaiian Punch," Mitchell, especially, invokes Monk as all five instruments engage as independent moving voices with no chords. "It's really about how we move around freely through these different obstacles and keep it together," he writes in this CD's promotional materials.

"Variable Current" is like an accordion, expanding and contracting. "Pyrrhic Apology" was named after the times he kept apologizing to his dying brother to no avail. "Inure Phase" refers to avant-garde composer Steve Reich's concept of "phasing" where each musician plays the same line in a different time signature, falling apart naturally until coalescing by song's end. The title cut was commissioned to be performed at the World Trade Center in New York City.

Douglas takes his responsibility seriously. In composing a piece that embodied his belief in the power of art as a response to tragedy, there's a quote from influential psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, Viktor Frankl, in the liner notes. "Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation."

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