JAZZBO NOTES HIGHLY RECOMMENDED RECORDING
It would be tempting but reductive to categorize The Infinite as Dave Douglas’ take on Miles Davis on the cusp of fusion, as fellow critic Dave Lynch does on allmusic.com. I understand the temptation. It’s always easier to talk about a recording if you have an overarching metaphor, a way of approaching the music. And I suppose that there’s some justification for the comparison. Dave Douglas is using a quintet with exactly the same composition that Miles used on Filles de Kilimanjaro, down to having keyboardist Uri Caine play Fender Rhodes. And the compositions are rather gentle, like the ones on the Davis recording. But Douglas sounds nothing like Miles on trumpet and his compositions are nothing like Miles’ either.
Indeed, Douglas covers three tunes by modern popular songsmiths, which Dave Lynch again compares to what Davis was doing in the late 80s, when he covered Cyndi Lauper’s Time After Time. But again, the comparison doesn’t hold. All Davis did (or more accurately, Marcus Miller, who was doing the arrangements for Miles at the time) was cover the Lauper and Michael Jackson tunes faithfully. Douglas transmutes these tunes through his own sensibility, a totally different proposition. If I hadn’t looked at the names of the composers on these tunes, it would never have occurred to me that Dave Douglas didn’t compose them. Douglas also has reed player Chris Potter play lines in counterpoint on bass clarinet to compliment his melodies on trumpet, which has no analog with what Miles Davis was doing at the time (yes, I’m aware of the bass clarinet on Bitches Brew — it’s not the same thing).
So, what is Dave Douglas really up to if he’s not imitating Davis’ late 60s period? Sorry, but I don’t have a handy overarching metaphor for you. I’ll have to make due with describing the music.
Keyboardist Uri Caine plays very sparingly on these tracks, carefully placed chords without mostly wide voicings. If you’ve heard the frenetic playing on Uri Caine’s date Bedrock, you’ll realize that it’s either a distinct aesthetic choice or a request on the part of Dave Douglas to play that way.
Drummer Clarence Penn mostly simmers in the background. He’s fond of bringing out accents with a cymbal bash. He doesn’t use the kick drum a whole lot.
Bassist James Genus keeps things simple in terms of notes — he doesn’t play many. On the other hand, he tends to play rhythmic patterns on the same note, almost like he’s playing drums on the bass, if that makes any sense. Again, when I’ve heard Genus play elsewhere, he sounds nothing like this. I suspect that Douglas asked him to play that way.
Both Chris Potter’s lines on tenor and leader Dave Douglas’ trumpet tend to stay close to the harmonic underpinnings of this batch of tunes. There isn’t a lot of “out” playing, and they don’t skitter around the expected notes. There also seems to be an effort to avoid harsh tonality. Douglas’ tone on the trumpet is buttery and smooth. Potter’s sax is almost vibrato-less and he almost never goes for effects outside the normal range of the tenor, but that isn’t uncommon for him.
As far as Douglas’ arrangments go, he favors a lot of contrapuntal lines between him and Potter. He also enjoys writing harmonies between the trumpet and tenor sax. What you won’t hear a lot of is unison writing. At one point, on Penelope, Douglas quotes the melody of Boplicity, a tune which is closely associated with Miles, which even more strongly supports the contention that Douglas is playing homage to Miles in this recording.
So, what kind of music is Douglas playing on The Infinite? I wish I could tell you. There’s a ballad or two, and a lot of post bop. I know that doesn’t help a whole lot. The music is characterized by a subtle tension, a great deal of melodicism, and a lot of soul. This isn’t harsh music, and it doesn’t hit you over the head. Douglas isn’t trying to blow anyone out of the water here. The emotional temperature is medium cool.
Have I made The Infinite sound dull? That’s not my intention. It’s a very good recording. It succeeds in setting and sustaining a very specific mood. The solos are intelligent and tasteful without exception. Douglas’ arrangements of the pop tunes he covers are the antithesis of pandering.
Man, I feel like I’ve failed in describing The Infinite. If I were reading this review, I wouldn’t really know what to expect. Here’s what I suggest: listen to the samples. If you like what you hear, I urge you to take a chance on The Infinite.