Dave Douglas has long shown a dominant innovator’s gene in his varied work, right down to the dizzying diversity of projects he concocts and pursues. Simultaneously, though, Douglas is prone to paying affectionate tribute to influential masters. Both instincts feed into the fascinating project known as Brass Ecstasy, through which Douglas generously tips his hat to the late, great avant-garde showman Lester Bowie’s Brass Fantasy.
On Spirit Moves, Douglas puts an intriguing songbook of originals and inventively retreated cover songs before his able and aesthetically willing brass cohorts: trombonist Luis Bonilla, French horn player Vincent Chancey and tuba player Marcus Rojas, with Nasheet Waits, exactly the right stuff, on drums. Like Bowie and his neo-brass band, Douglas savors the textural and attitudinal feeling of a chordless, all-brass band, which can be sumptuous and dreamy as well as archetypically “brassy.”
Also like Bowie, Douglas chooses his cover songs carefully, and surprisingly, from the opening of Rufus Wainwright’s “This Love Affair,” done as a soggy N’Awlins dirge, to the closing, duskily mournful take on Hank Williams’ “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” with the soul blast of Otis Redding’s “Mr. Pitiful” also in the mix. Douglas’ tribute-paying tendency has its day here, with a three-pack of songs for legendary jazz trumpeters: “Fats” is a snaky post-postbop ode to Fats Navarro; “Rava” accesses the wit and moody moves of Enrico Rava; and “Bowie” is a fitting nod to Lester, in his labcoat-donning splendor, cleverly fusing slinky Crescent City spirits and free-minded jam-up moments.