The world is a small place and the jazz world is even smaller these days. The distance between us punters and the players seems a lot less now. This CD dropped to review today and before getting down to writing I went to see the Xhosa Cole Quartet at Birmingham Jazz. David Austin Grey was on piano and it turns out he’s headed Stateside in a week or so to study with…Dave Douglas.
Seemed like a good omen. The title Devotion is not indicative of a re-run of the Sacred Harp approach of 2014’s Present Joys but a reference to the jazz and other “deities” Douglas’ tunes honour. But some of that hymnal feel is apparent throughout.
This is a trio record but I don’t think that has any link with the first “deity” Jerome Horowitz of the Three Stooges other than him being Douglas’ favourite Stooge. So ‘Curly’ opens with Uri Caine leading lively piano duo with just Cyrille on drums, Douglas perhaps surprisingly sits this one out so it’s a duo track, not a trio…
Uri Caine kicks off ‘D’Andrea’ with some portentous chords then Douglas comes in with a fuzzy start that moves into a funky lead. Uri chimes in with a bright, broken solo using the whole range of the keyboard. Cyrille solos with a lightfast touch and plenty of top cymbal riding, before Uri comes back in with the chords and a quick finish from Douglas.
‘Francis of Anthony’ is more of a ballad with a lyrical Douglas muted solo leading into Caine with another trademark percussive solo and some fine interplay which is indicative of the closeness they have from playing together in various contexts. It closes with a singing feel – I guess linked to that hymnal feel. Both D’Andrea and Francis are dedicated to the Italian pianist and composer Franco D’Andrea.
‘Miljøsang’ with its tumbling piano solo and ‘False Allegiances’ are for Carla Bley and on the latter Douglas goes with a more growling sound and a rather funereal marching feel which moves into a bluesy Caine solo.
‘Prefontaine’ is for the US Olympic runner who died young in a car crash so it has a spiky freer feel. ‘Pacific’ is back in ballad territory with a strong theme stated by Douglas. It’s for Aine Nakamura and the Mannes/New School composition class of fall 2017 and is based on the C-F-C tuning on the Asian instrument Nakamura played.
‘Rose and Thorn’ is another choppy (in a good way) tune for Mary Lou Williams. Douglas refers to it as “the pricklier one” and has some neo-stride piano from Caine.
‘We Pray’ is for Dizzy Gillespie but instead of perhaps an expected firecracker of a tune this is a gentle and reverent dedication with both Douglas and Caine in lyrically classic form.
‘Devotion’ goes back to the Sacred Harp approach of Present Joys and refers to the history between Douglas and Caine, as Douglas says: “I feel that the understanding and insight that Uri and I have into Sacred Harp repertoire has deepened and broadened.” It starts and stays lyrical and the hymnal feel is clear. It’s a beautiful and fitting end to the recording which is very well programmed.
And as it ends I realise I haven’t mentioned Cyrille very much – maybe because on this recording he plays perfectly and, a bit like you don’t notice a referee at a football match who just keeps the game flowing, he plays beautifully to the music supporting and suggesting and by turns soft and intense.
Douglas is clearly the leader and it’s an interesting shot on the cover of him and his trumpet with his head and upper body cropped off – reflecting perhaps that he does his talking through his instrument. But the feel throughout is of three close collaborators enjoying playing together. It’s a great record but I imagine hearing this live would be even better.