Trumpeter Dave Douglas, who outpaces most of his contemporaries as a prolific bandleader, project developer, and composer, is now at the vanguard of independent music distribution. While hardly the first prominent jazz figure to form his own label in response to the shortcomings of the majors (Charles Mingus and Max Roach formed Debut in the 1950s), Douglas has expanded indie jazz horizons with his embrace of the cloud and his Greenleaf Portable Series of digital-only albums. At least they were digital-only when Douglas launched GPS last June, but audience demand prompted him to issue the first three GPS volumes as compact disc EPs (about 45 minutes each), packaged as a box set with photos from the sessions.
Three Views is both a boon for listeners who still prefer to put a physical artifact into a playback machine and an excellent sampling of Douglas’s recent ventures. Volume 1, Rare Metals, features Brass Ecstasy, in which Douglas’ trumpet shimmers alongside Vincent Chancey’s French horn, Luis Bonilla’s trombone, and Marcus Rojas’ tuba, with Nasheet Waits on drums. Volume 2, Orange Afternoons, captures a stellar quintet with saxophonist Ravi Coltrane, pianist-of- the-moment Vijay Iyer, bassist Linda Oh, and drummer Marcus Gilmore. Volume 3, Bad Mango, finds Douglas in his most experimental mood as the players of So Percussion—Eric Beach, Adam Sliwinski, Jason Treuting, and Josh Quillen—unpack a trunkful of familiar and exotic noisemakers such as marimba, synthesizer, glockenspiel, Estey organ, desk bells, musical saw, metronomes, shruti box, vocoder, and miscellaneous drums and toys.
In simple terms, Orange Afternoons extends the tradition of the classic acoustic Miles Davis quintets of the 1960s, with brilliant solos spinning out of richly textured ensemble statements of Douglas’s heady compositions; Rare Metals riffs off the legacy of Lester Bowie’s Brass Fantasy, the horns coalescing into gleaming group voices and swathing the solos in glistening arrangements; and Bad Mango crosses over into the avant-garde, percussion- driven realm pioneered by John Cage and Steve Reich, and, not unlike clarinetist Don Byron’s collaborations with Bang on Can, establishes a sophisticated and entertaining common ground between jazz and new music.
Three things most obviously unite these otherwise divergent dates. First, there’s the appealing intelligence of Douglas’s writing; complex, but accessible and often songlike, it holds its own against the sole non-original piece in the set, the Billy Strayhorn masterpiece “Lush Life.” Then there’s his trumpet playing—exquisite in tone, dynamics, and feeling, technically flawless but never fussy or ostentatious— running like a silver thread through all 19 performances. And finally, Geoff Countryman’s and Tyler McDiarmid’s engineering and mixing give each band an appropriate soundstage, wide or deep where need be, and just the right amount of space between the instruments.
For those familiar with Douglas, Three Views is an essential addition to an already bountiful library. For initiates, this variegated set will likely trigger a craving to hear more of Douglas’s mercurial horn in the myriad settings he restlessly creates with traditional jazz instruments, turntables, accordion, violin, electric guitar, and more.