The prolific, serpentine discography of Dave Douglas continues. On Riverside the intrepid trumpeter-composer teams up with Montreal reed player Chet Doxas for a band paying creative tribute to Jimmy Giuffre, with former Giuffre cohort Steve Swallow on electric bass and Chet’s brother Jim Doxas on drums. Giuffre was a versatile stylist who had his hand in big-band music (he wrote “Four Brothers” for Woody Herman), the West Coast cool school and even “free jazz” from a chamber perspective with editions of his drummer-less Jimmy Giuffre 3. But where Riverside finds the most extensive common ground with Giuffre is in the clarinetist-composer’s self-description of the Giuffre 3 as “blues-based folk jazz,” which has resonance with past Douglas-led ensembles going back to Charms of the Night Sky and even the Tiny Bell Trio.
Co-leaders Douglas and Doxas wrote all but two of the songs on Riverside. While the Doxas tunes generally choose to emphasize the vulnerable and introspective aspect of Giuffre’s nature, Douglas originals such as “Thrush” and “Handwritten Letter” are more light-hearted and fleet-footed, with elements of New Orleans brass, show-tune panache and Texas swing. Best of all, Riverside frequently delivers the sort of innovative counterpoint in the frontline horns (Doxas usually on tenor) that the Giuffre 3 achieved when Giuffre’s clarinet danced with the valve trombone of Bob Brookmeyer. (Ironically, Swallow fills the role of guitarist Jim Hall at these times, as his Giuffre 3 tenure with pianist Paul Bley was more avant-garde.)
Giuffre’s minor hit “The Train and the River” is covered with toe-tapping dispatch, and Doxas switches to clarinet while Douglas deploys the mute for another song associated with Giuffre (and Billie Holiday), “Travellin’ Light.” Swallow gets off a beautiful two-minute solo in the intro to Doxas’ “Old Church, New Paint.” But as with Sound Prints, the Wayne Shorter tribute band Douglas has formed with Joe Lovano, the most satisfying moments generally occur when Douglas is flexing his brawny tone and agile ideas to seize the spotlight or support his fellow horn player.