United Front: Brass Ecstasy Live at Newport
Brass Ecstasy’s set was one of the highlights of the 2010 Newport Jazz Festival. Dave Douglas’ group—which featured Luis Bonilla on trombone, Vincent Chancey on French horn, Marcus Rojas on tuba and Nasheet Waits on drums—performed half a dozen tunes that meandered from bop to funk. The set was recorded for broadcast on NPR Music. Douglas, recognizing how well the quintet played, subsequently decided to release the material on his label.
On the opener, “Spirit Moves,” the tuba behaves like a bass, the trombone adheres to the melody, the French horn harmonizes and Douglas improvises on trumpet. For the most part, this is how the entire program unfolds. “Rava” (named for Enrico, not Pietro) starts with a brassy drone, over which Douglas solos. After two minutes, modern jazz erupts with a pulsating trombone and a walking-bass tuba, punctuated by shimmering trumpet blasts. “Fats” (named for Navarro, not Waller) is essentially a coda—a different (but brief) backdrop for Douglas to blow over.
Another drone introduces an inspired cover of Hank Williams’ “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.” Here, though, Douglas plaintively states the theme, unadorned. That’s the first time through, anyway. The second time through, he throws curveballs at the melody. The third time through, all bets are off. He soars far above the melodic line and plays ahead of the beat. After a rounded, sonorous solo by Bonilla, Rojas steps forward and steals the limelight by singing the melody through the mouthpiece of the tuba.
Then what happens? Funk. “United Front” is a conduit for J.B.s-style gettin’ down, with Douglas serving up funk hallmarks like shrieks, triple-time playing and sustained high notes. The set concludes with “Bowie” (named for Lester, not David), a tour-de-genre that starts as avant-garde, briefly becomes a second-line march, evolves into bebop, slows to hard bop and ends on a comical note. Douglas solos furiously for much of the tune’s 12 1/2 minutes, and even the drummer gets some: Waits finally takes a rumbling, tumbling solo that lasts about 3 1/2 minutes. You should have been there, but this disc is a fine consolation prize.