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Dave Douglas: Jazz Artist of the Year

Dave Douglas
Dave Douglas

Critical mass has been gaining on Dave Douglas of late, in the form of awards, laurels, and even his first domestic major label deal, so it’s no surprise that JazzTimes critics have chosen him as the magazine’s “Artist of the Year”. Douglas suits the role, in ways at once unlikely and logical: unlikely, because he has developed largely in the margins, building up a healthy discography on small labels and playing in the nontraditional left end of the jazz scene; and logical, because Douglas is a mature-yet-still-young who appears to be forging-full speed ahead-his own new version of the progressive jazz musician model.

For Douglas, a hell of a trumpeter who happens to also be a hell of an all-around musician, jazz is less a fixed language to be reverently exercised than it is a hunk of rock waiting to be chiseled, redefined. Jazz is the medium, the message. He pushes the music into other areas, building to suit his instincts, into the classical chamber mode, into Eastern European folk idioms, or quirky rock riffage, abutting uncharted improv sections. With John Zorn’s Masada, he is a broad-ranging Don Cherry to Zorn’s cantor-like Ornette. In Douglas’ cerebral daredevil act, Tiny Bell Trio, he is a critical one-third in a bass-less equation that travels the world, known and otherwise, in its music.

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