Saturday, October 17, 2015

CD Review : Dave Douglas Quintet - Brazen Heart

Dave Douglas Quintet
Brazen Heart

It wasn't too long ago that Dave Douglas released High Risk, an album that placed his trumpet in the company of electronic musicians from the bands Ghostly International and Groove Collective. (The mix of company worked really well too. My review can be found here.) Now, the trumpeter has returned less than six months later with the third release from his quintet, with Matt Mitchell (piano), Linda Oh (bass), Jon Irabagon (tenor saxophone) and Rudy Royston (drums).

On first blush, it might sound a little...standard, especially after the last one. Douglas and Irabagon play a few melodies together that Wayne Shorter might have written in the '60s. A line similar to one by Thelonious Monk begins one piece - before moving off into more unique waters. At that point, a closer listen becomes mandatory and it reveals a wealth of original playing and writing.

The unexpected moments give Brazen Heart much of its staying power. "Miracle Gro" starts off with a backbeat, which Douglas digs into. Out of nowhere, the group shifts into a rubato interlude making everything come to a pensive halt. Then it's back to the changes for an Irabagon solo that uses the tenor's whole range, with a shriek or two for added emphasis. Royston, here and throughout, pushes his bandmates hard, never quite overplaying, but definitely starting fires. 

"Inure Phase" (say it out loud), is based on a Steve Reich concept where everyone plays in a different time signature. It gives the tune an anxious quality that makes it sound like it could pull apart at any minute. Yet everyone solos over changes so everything remains in focus, again bolstered by Royston.

Special mention should be made of Linda Oh's work on the album. A solid accompanist to be sure, her lines frequently grab the ear for the inventive way they serve the music and add more color. She, like the equally bold Matt Mitchell, gets a fair amount of solo space throughout the album.

Some of the music on Brazen Heart was inspired by personal loss. Readings of the traditional "Deep River" and "There Is a Balm in Gilead" convey a sense of reflection too. But without digging into the background, the album comes off with a sense of excitement rather than sorrow. The rapid-fire "Wake Up Claire" ends the set and drives this point home.

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