Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, the silent-film legend and the father of pie-in-the-face comedy, has inspired some of the most inviting melodies of Dave Douglas's career. Keystone is first and foremost an exercise in rehabilitation: Douglas and many others view Arbuckle as innocent of the rape and murder charges that destroyed his career. The album evokes the sordid Arbuckle affair in jazz/hip-hop colors that are reminiscent of, but not as wild as, Douglas' 2003 disc Freak In. (The DualDisc features a DVD side with the music timed to the 34-minute silent feature film Fatty and Mabel Adrift).
The band features DJ Olive on decks, Jamie Saft on Wurlitzer, Brad Jones on bass and Gene Lake on drums. Saxophonist Marcus Strickland, outstanding on both tenor and soprano, joins Douglas in the front line. "A Noise From the Deep" and "Just Another Murder" lead off with polyrhythmic hooks; "Sapphire Sky Blue" and "Mabel Normand" are the set's luminous ballads; "Butterfly Effect" is melodic heaven in a 6/4 lilt. Saft's hall-of-mirrors effects and Olive's artful noise create a Miles-meets-Massive Attack mood on "The Real Roscoe," "Barnyard Flirtations" and other tracks. "Tragicomique" brings down the curtain in a searing 5/8.
Arbuckle may have been the archetypal screwball comic, but Douglas' tribute is remarkably free of camp, restoring a measure of dignity to its subject.