Trumpeter Dave Douglas has rightly come to be recognized as a major player on the scene. A remarkable improviser and technical monster to boot, he is also a thoughtful and prolific composer for a number of diverse ensembles, each as provocative and challenging to both player and listener as the next. Convergence, Douglas' third go-round with his string quintet (following Parallel Worlds and Five, also on Soul Note), reunites him with fellow virtuosos and sympathetic provocateurs Mark Feldman on violin, Erik Friedlander on cello, Drew Gress on bass and Michael Sarin on drums. Their interplay, flexibility in executing Douglas' music and individual solo prowess marks this as one of the most noteworthy units in jazz. And yet, because they don't rely a great deal on blue notes or emulate bebop phrasing, they are often disregarded by myopic critics as being "too European." A bum rap, that. These are all American boys steeped in American music (hell, Feldman had a lengthy tour of duty with Tammy Wynette, for godsakes). They are as American as Mingus (another forward thinking composer uncomfortable with the term"jazz")...minus the gospel overtones.
Like Charlie Haden, Douglas is a composer with a social conscience. His "Tzutzil Maya," a darkly beautiful requiem written for the indigenous peoples of Chiapas, Mexico following a tragedy that left 45 villagers dead, is as powerfully evocative as Haden's work with the Liberation Orchestra. And his "Collateral Damages," a piece "written during the Gulf War in sympathy with the many victims on both sides," as he states, is teeming with passion.
A brainiac with deep soul, Douglas summons up a mournful tone on Olivier Messaien's "Desseins Eternels" then gets giddy on Kurt Weill's "Bilbao Song," a piece the quintet has performed since 1992. "Goodbye Tony," a highly personalized tribute to the late Tony Williams, shifts from open-ended free sections to intensely swinging passages ignited by Sarin's interactive work on the kit. "Joe's Auto Glass" carries an Ornette-ish tinge in the quirky unison lines executed with uncanny precision at a breakneck pace while that same bristling energy between trumpet, violin, and cello can be heard on the startling opener "Will You Accept My Love or Not?," a strictly American (i.e., jazz) reworking of a traditional Burmese melody.
The centerpiece of this superb album is the 16-minute suite "Meeting at Infinity," which highlights the band's collective knack for true spontaneous invention. Each improviser is featured here in a different rhythmic setting, and each responds with soloistic daring and verve. Sarin applies a textural touch on the rubato sections here that really allows the music to open up and fly, then he gooses Douglas on a surging uptempo section with the strings playing counterpoint against the trumpeter's unbridled burn; a high point of the album.
Douglas ends this rich musical journey in a more straightahead vein with "Nothing Like You," the swinging Bob Dorough ditty that appeared on Miles Davis' Sorcerer. The rhythmically challenged may want to use this as an entry point into his music. But it gets a whole lot deeper as you wade further in.