Dave Douglas Quintet
Fri-12-Jul-2013 • Schooner Ballroom, Casino Nova Scotia • Halifax Jazz Festival (link)
Dave Douglas, trumpet; Jon Irabagon, tenor sax; Uri Caine, piano; Linda Oh, bass; Johnathan Blake, drums.
This is a young quintet for bandleader Douglas, existing as it has for about a year. The band formed up out of the session scene in New York, and each member of the group is also a bandleader in their own right. Bassist Linda Oh was also featured recently in music journalist Peter Hum’s blog at the Ottawa Citizen.
My first time hearing Dave Douglas play was when he joined Lee Konitz on stage this past Monday night, halfway through the second chorus of the classic jazz ballad, Body and Soul. I thought he made a really positive contribution to that concert, and I was eager to hear him play with Irabagon on tenor sax, who originally hails from Chicago and whom I’ve been reading about for years on the pages of Downbeat magazine.
This is a serious band staffed with heavy-hitting professionals—that much was obvious from the first downbeat. The compositions were in a more straight-ahead jazz style than I had originally expected, and all of the musicians turned in first-rate, high-speed jazz comping and soloing.
Two big highlights of the set for me were the hymn they played from their album Be Still, and a tribute to Paul Motian composed by Douglas titled Middle March. The former began with beautiful unison playing by the trumpet and tenor and a thoughtful solo by Douglas that showcased his wide, warm sound on the trumpet. Irabagon’s solo on that hymn was a treat, peppered as it was with expressive phrases that stretched the tempo all around the beat within the same breath; he has a gorgeous sound on the tenor that’s big, fat and throaty.
Middle March featured resonant harmony lines between the trumpet and tenor, as well as a long bass vamp over which Blake’s drums and Caine’s piano had some fun by breaking up the meter and then stretching the tempo back and forth. The next tune, a heavily modified “Rhythm” changes (i.e. from the Gershwin tune, “I’ve Got Rhythm”), inspired by a cougar sighting by Douglas at the Banff Centre, was one of the more hardcore jazz performances of the night. It was a great composition filled with intricate arrangement details, background lines, and fully-composed shots during the drum breaks after the trading.
Watching Johnathan Blake’s drumming was an unusual treat in itself. He was not the type of drummer to lead from the drum throne like Dan Weiss sometimes does, but he had tons of positive energy on the set and played with great joy and inventiveness. He also had an unorthodox seating position, with all of his drums and cymbals laid out on a flat horizontal plane at waist level. This enabled him to reach everything with the barest economy of movement–only his forearms needed to change position to strike anything he wanted on his kit. The effect of this was slightly jarring during the climax of his solos, when an enormous amount of sound would emanate from his drums and cymbals while he barely appeared to be moving at all.
My notes from the show are filled with exclamatory remarks about how much I’m enjoying each composition, how good each arrangement sounds, and how strong each individual member of the group’s playing is. I left the venue feeling fortunate once again to have heard such a creative and rewarding performance at this year’s festival. Thanks to Lulu’s great programming, I’ve yet to see a bad show this entire week.