Dave Douglas is relentlessly innovative. In 2005, the trumpeter launched his Greenleaf Music label to keep pace with his huge compositional output and to get his music to listeners more efficiently. This summer came the cloud-based Greenleaf Portable Series, the first three volumes of which—each featuring Douglas with a wildly different ensemble—have now been released as a limited-edition three-CD box set titled Three Views.
For Volume 1, Rare Metals, Douglas is joined by his sometime group Brass Ecstasy—Vincent Chancey, French horn; Luis Bonilla, trombone; Marcus Rojas, tuba; Nasheet Waits, drums—for their third album. “Town Hall” kicks off the six-track disc and is the most traditional cut on offer, with echoes of old-time New Orleans turning modernistic as Bonilla takes over the lead part, then hands it to Douglas for an energetic closer. “Thread,” Douglas’ tribute to Henry Threadgill, is the most avant-garde piece, and one of the best. “Safeway,” an elegy nudged slowly forward throughout by Waits’ somber brushes, was written during Douglas’ 2011 Copland House residency to memorialize the just-occurred attack on Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. The one tune on the album not written by Douglas, Billy Strayhorn’s “Lush Life,” gets new harmonies from him and some out passages from the band while remaining a respectful tribute.
Volume 2, Orange Afternoons, is an all-star quintet date featuring Ravi Coltrane on sax, Vijay Iyer on piano, Linda Oh on bass and Marcus Gilmore on drums. It’s the most conventionally instrumented and modern disc of the three, but there’s a uniqueness to the compositions and playing that feels akin to Andrew Hill’s all-star Blue Note sessions of the ’60s. “The Gulf,” another sad nod by Douglas toward another recent U.S. tragedy, opens (and closes) with Iyer’s ruminative piano, with Douglas and Coltrane soon joining in to state the soaring theme and take solo turns. Oh, whose own next album is in the works for the Greenleaf Portable Series, shines, holding down and soloing on the jaunty “Valori Bollati.” Coltrane, Gilmore and Iyer stand out on “Solato,” the latter’s more furious runs sounding Cecil Taylor-ish in places. Douglas’ mute gives the title track a slow, stately Miles-ian vibe, and is primarily focused on color; Iyer here steers a middle ground between his lyricism on “The Gulf” and his power on “Solato.” And Douglas makes good use of a stint of jury duty with the set-closing “Frontier Justice.”
Volume 3, Bad Mango, is the furthest out of the bunch but arguably the most fun. Douglas is joined by the new music quartet So Percussion: Josh Quillen, Adam Sliwinski, Jason Treuting and Eric Beach. It is all Douglas and his trumpet afloat sophisticated, polyrhythmic accompaniment from pipe organ, steel drums, glockenspiel, marimba, musical saw and assorted other percussion. It’s a moody, high-wire performance, but it works—and the sense that at any point it might not injects a comic edge to the proceedings aptly conveyed by the disc’s zany title.