Dave Douglas Radically Reinvents Dizzy Gillespie at Jazz at Lincoln Center
On one hand, there were probably a thousand groups around the world who were doing what what trumpeter Dave Douglas and his sextet did this past evening at Jazz at Lincoln Center But those bands’ improvisations on Dizzy Gillespie themes were probably limited to solos around the horn. What Douglas did was simple on the surface – distilling riffs and phrases into their simplest, catchiest essence, often to the point of unrecognizability, and then jamming them out. But it was far more sophisticated than that.
The result was essentially two practically hourlong suites, packed with pairings, echoing, catch-and-follow and sometimes some pretty wild, untethered collective improvisation, drummer Joey Baron signaling the changes with gusty abandon. The rest of Douglas’ band – second trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, guitarist Bill Frisell, pianist Gerald Clayton and Linda May Han Oh – turned in the kind of transcendence and joyous interplay you would expect from some of the world’s foremost improvisers.
Looking behind him down on the streetlights’ reflections on rain-soaked Broadway, Douglas went for appropriately distant, forlorn solo ambience to open the night’s second show. Oh bowed sepulchral high harmonics, Baron icing the windows, then the rest of the group joined, pensive and sparingly.
For the rest of the set, Douglas was Douglas; choosing his spots, always finding the mot juste. Space is a big part of his game: it seemed even more so this evening, whether punctuating the themes with sudden cloudbursts, wafting minor blues, snazzy sixteenth-note volleys or achingly melismatic lines that seemed microtonal – which probably weren’t, but Douglas can fake you out like that. For somebody who plays as many notes as he does, it’s amazing that he doesn’t waste any. Akinmusire basically played the role of flugelhornist: lots of long, methodically crescendoing legato solos, hovering around the midrange for the most part, occasionally in close formation with the bandleader.
Watching Frisell as a sideman was a trip. Only Baron was more exuberant. Yet Frisell also seemed to be the captain of the gravitas team, which also comprised Oh and Clayton. The pianist had been playing eerie, Satie-esque close harmonies for much of the set; it wasn’t long before Frisell decided to slam-dunk a couple. Otherwise, his shimmering, icily reverbtoned washes contrasted with judicious blues, shards of jangle and clang and an unexpectedly lighthearted detour into quasi-funk that Baron couldn’t resist spicing with polyrhythms.
Likewise, the drummer traded rims and hardware with Oh’s sotto-voce swings and vaults from the highest branches, finally getting a long solo in an epic Night in Tunisia and taking it from Buddy Rich to Wipeout and back. Oh and Clayton would throw a hot potato back and forth when least expected, notwithstanding how much murk and mystery they were building. When A Night in Tunisia finally coalesced, ironically it was Clayton who pulled away the latin noir he’d been shadowing all night,in to some jubilant tumbles. Meanwhile, Oh walked the changes – but in Arabic hijaz mode, and expanded from there. Straight-up swing has seldom been so dark or interesting. The group finally closed with a verse of somebody else’s well-known tune: it wouldn’t have meant a thing if they hadn’t swung it as they had all night.
Douglas’ next stop on the never-ending tour is a duo show with similarly lyrical, individualistic pianist Uri Caine on Feb 27 at 7:30 PM at Filharmonie Brno in Brno, Czech Republic.