There is no current major jazz musician with an oeuvre more diverse than trumpeter Dave Douglas'. He has recently been associated with at least 10 very different working ensembles. Now there's another, Nomad, formed for Douglas' new album and new record label.
Nomad is Douglas, reedist Michael Moore, tuba player Marcus Rojas, cellist Peggy Lee and drummer Dylan van der Schyff. The label is Greenleaf, for which Douglas serves as artistic director. The album, Mountain Passages, began as a commission from the Sound of the Dolomites festival in Northern Italy, which asked Douglas "for music to be played between 9,000 and 12,000 feet." The music is also in memoriam to Douglas' late father, Damon, who loved to run on mountain trails.
Mountain Passages (like the Ladino music of the Northern Mediterranean that partly inspired it) modulates between extremes of the contemplative and the raucous. The alchemy of instrumental sonorities is unique (trumpet both open and muted, cello both pizzicato and arco, three reed instruments in turn) and the genre is classifiable only as Douglas-music: too formally notated for jazz, too hard-driven for chamber music.
The best pieces are shorter, crystallizing specific concepts within this suite of related ideas. "Summit Music" is a waltz that gradually intensifies, like a successful climb. "Gnarly Schnapps" has strident, manic unisons, suggesting a nasty-tasting Northern Italian drink that kicks like a mule. "North Point Memorial" is titled for the location of Damon Douglas' memorial stone. It is a eulogy perfectly representative of Dave Douglas' art. In four minutes, it takes its lamentation through many different detailed configurations and voicings. It is austere, meticulously executed, unsentimental and moving.