Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, live sessions and more!
Start Your Free Trial

Ornette Coleman at the SF Jazz Festival

Dave Douglas

“Thank you for tearing yourself away from CNN during this terrible time,” said Dave Douglas at the microphone, with apparent sincerity. “We’ll try to do something positive here.” This was March 25: the day after Douglas’ 40th birthday, and almost a week into the war with Iraq. And “something positive” was certainly on the verge of materializing, as the trumpeter mounted a mid-career retrospective over the course of this engagement. Spanning six days and incorporating 10 separate bands, the cumbersomely titled “Dave Douglas 40th Birthday Celebration Week” simultaneously showed the range of Douglas’ imagination and the laser-like focus of his vision.

Festivities began with the Tiny Bell Trio, one of Douglas’ earliest ensembles, and one of his most distinctive. Consisting of Douglas, guitarist Brad Shepik and drummer Jim Black, the band manages a tightrope walk between poetic minimalism and eclectic frenzy. “Scriabin” opened the set in plush waltz time, with a tender essay by Douglas in mid-register and richly voiced accompaniment by Shepik. Then the group revisited one of its first standards, the Balkan-tinged “Red Emma.” That song’s insistent 9/8 cadence lends itself perfectly to the group’s elastic virtuosity, and it evoked strong solos all around; Black’s statement in particular, encompassing a range of textures and roving in and out of time, was a high point of the night. Other highlights included a Shepik-Black duet on the following tune (incorporating flat-out rock distortion and breakbeat double-time); a gorgeously textural treatment of a theme by Robert Schumann, with lovely work by Douglas; and the set closer, which moved from a fragmentary head to a ferocious open section, careening briefly (and spontaneously?) through Joe Zawinul’s “Directions” before circling back home. On every tune it was clear that the Tiny Bell Trio, despite a long absence from the bandstand and a combination of strong musical personalities, still functions first and foremost as a band. (It was tempting to compare their performance with the reunion of another three-piece, the Police, two weeks prior. Tiny Bell sounded much better, and seemed less likely to throw punches after the gig.)

Start Your Free Trial to Continue Reading

Become a JazzTimes member to explore our complete archive of interviews, profiles, columns, and reviews written by music's best journalists and critics.
Originally Published