Saturday, November 04, 2006

Dave Douglas Quintet - 03/11/2006@CC Luchtbal, Antwerpen

[UPDATE 2: After jogging my memory, I realise that I extrapolated wildly from some comments made from the stage about the scariness of mid-term campaigning, but didn't lean to one political side or the other. I combined that extrapolation with a long dormant desire to place that Bush grafitti and arrived at "anti-Bush." I apologise for mis-representing Dave's words. I also managed to get the date of the concert wrong in the post title, despite it being written in the ticket pictured above, which is pretty embarassing. Oh, can I do nothing right?]

[UPDATE: Dave Douglas politics amended, per his response]

Dave Douglas - cornet
Donny McCaslin - ts
Uri Caine - Fender Rhodes
James Genus - b
Clarence Penn - d

I was really looking forward to this concert, because as much as I appreciate the Greenleaf blog, I barely know Dave Douglas's music. This was my first time seeing him live. Before leaving home, I prepared by listening to the one album I have, Tiny Bell Trio's Constellations, which is a great one.

The Luchtbal was as full as I've ever seen it, with a much less musician-heavy crowd than I expected. The concert consisted mainly of brand-new compositions, as indicated by the title of the opener, "October Surprise." Its head juddered wildly from straight swing to near-stasis to noisy outbursts. That kind of manic energy and stylistic range continued throughout the concert. Dave kind of embodied it with his loud green shirt, hilarious stage banter and by banging on Uri Caine's shoulder while presenting the musicians, as if to hype him up before a basketball game. There was none of the "intellectual white guy" feel that magazine profiles I'd read over the years had kind of led me to expect: the engagement with the music was very physical, from Dave leaning into his cornet to Clarence Penn's wide, emphatic arm movements.

The single most impressive thing for me was the fantastic creativity of the song structures. Within a traditional enough small group sound, unexpected elements arrived, textures and rhythms changed unpredictably, solos were kept short, the horns often intertwined, one accompanying the other or both soloing simultaneously, new written material appeared and reappeared, altered. A couple of times it felt a little too neat, but mostly there was enough built-in messiness for the music not to feel boxed in. Inevitably, I thought of this kind of writing in the context of harnessing that "crazy" "experimental" "freedom" of the 60s and 70s (I wanted to ask Dave about some of the issues sjz raises in that post's comments, but forgot, in the heat of the moment). Thus, the mood was often unsettled, especially as Penn has a cool way of seeming one or two degrees removed from the basic pulse. "Little Penn," written for his newborn daughter, was straight-up hard bop, though: bluesy-funky mid-tempo with hints of Blakey press rolls, Latinising full-kit cross rhythms and even a ride bell pattern on the bridge.

It occurred to me that there was perhaps a general post-John Zorn cut'n'paste/jump-cut aesthetic, but with the hard edits softened and narrower, less arbitrary stylistic leaps. For example, the last piece before the encores started tenderly, but quickly moved into swing that was never taken for granted, always stopping and coalescing into a new tempo or mood. Suddenly, the music was stripped down and completely rebuilt on a simple bass line that Penn accompanied with a djembé rhythm played bare-handed on the snare drum. He and James Genus established a surprisingly slow and even sensual atmosphere over which my favourite Donny McCaslin playing of the night happened.

I'll admit that McCaslin is not really my style of saxophonist: very vertical, straight tone, virtuosic but not very expressive, swinging or personal, and in those respects somewhat out-of-step with the rest of the band. At this moment on this tune, however, he started with very short, simple notes that meshed excitingly with Genus and Penn's very spare, rubato backdrop. As the rhythm built up, his blues licks didn't really grab me, though. The two encores, "Elks' Club" and "Tim Bits," were older compositions and he seemed more comfortable with them. Amusingly, on stage he looks really boyish, but he has to be much older than he seems.

Uri Caine played "pure" Fender Rhodes. Fluttering jazz piano lines on Rhodes tend to get old quick for me, but when he brought together percussive funkiness and weird chords on the above-described tune, it really worked. "Tree And Shrub" started with wonderfully delicate cornet backed only by orchestral Fender. Within the space of a few minutes, Caine provided lush, swirling backgrounds, high register trills and murky middle out of which mysterious bass lines briefly emerged. I absolutely love the overtones the Rhodes creates when a lot of notes are played at once. On "Earmarks" he played bright, funky figures reminiscent of Filles De Kilimandjaro and the second half of Waterbabies, while on "The Next Phase (For Thomas)," he held down a moody part that set the piece's tone. The simple, repetitive chords then anchored him for a great melodic, pop-ish solo.

newsflash: dave douglas is anti-bush "pro-America and pro-World"

Dave has been playing cornet since this summer and is apparently studying Don Cherry a lot, which could account for all the Ornette/Cherry quotes sprinkled throughout the concert. Talking with him afterwards, he said that he felt the cornet made him think a little harder about what he was playing, as certain things were easier or harder to do, compared to the trumpet. In any case, I found him highly lyrical and expressive all night. The first encore, "Elks' Club," had, appropriately enough for a cornetist, a dixieland vibe and ended with a hilarious series of FX: growls and sighs and bluster. The most flat-out fun piece was the short "The Cornet Is A Fickle Friend," which featured a wild Cherry/Ornette head over a heavy, rocking, start-stop staccato stomp.

After the concert, I chatted with Dave for a while, still giddy from a semi-shout out he gave me from the stage: "lots of great jazz blogging happens in Belgium, I know." Okay, maybe he says that everywhere, but let me have my moment, damnit. I also doubled my Dave Douglas record collection by buying Keystone: Live In Sweden (hmm, looking at the pricing on the website, it's more expensive to buy at the concert than order from the website...), which is playing as I write this and sounds really good.