Dave Douglas: A Thousand Evenings

Dave Douglas’ second major label release is a bold stroke on a few significant counts. A Thousand Evenings, his second outing with Charms of the Night Sky, is not an overt jazz album like his RCA debut, Soul on Soul, Douglas’ homage to Mary Lou Williams. Nor does this album have the marketing synergy its predecessor had with the concurrent publication of Linda Dahl’s acclaimed Williams biography. Its fall release also assures a crowded field of recordings in which the album must stand out to sustain the charmed trumpeter’s Big Mo in the media.

Additionally, Charms of the Night Sky is arguably Douglas’ most challenging ensemble. Though Douglas created an alluring blend with violinist Mark Feldman, accordionist Guy Klucevsek and bassist Greg Cohen on their eponymous 1998 Winter & Winter debut, the program was laden with an almost purgative melancholic lyricism, which was only occasionally abated by Eastern European dances and envelope-nudging contours. While a few tracks were prime fodder for NPR segues, the album was too shadow-shrouded to be a pristine soundtrack for a Sunday of lattes and crossword puzzles.

A Thousand Evenings is a more tailored program. At first, Douglas seems intent in recreating the atmosphere of the first album, as he front-loads the CD with the title track’s semisweet lyricism, the wistful tribute to klezmer pioneer Dave Tarras and the Hadenesque dirge “Words for a Loss.” But Douglas pulls out a bucket of cold water on “Variety,” a bracing, genre-bending solo piece for Klucevsek. Douglas then strategically deploys a chipper reading of Nat Adderley’s “The Little Boy With the Sad Eyes,” a shaken-not-stirred overhaul of “Goldfinger” and the exuberantly folksy “On Our Way Home” to buoy the second half of the program.

Subsequently, A Thousand Evenings has a different feel than Charms of the Night Sky’s first outing. Instead of plunging headlong into bottomless depths, the program builds upon contrasts. In a perverse way, the sunnier tracks give some of the album’s yearning-filled material a more savory quality. Even though the album ends with the heart-gnawing adagio “Memories of a Pure Spring,” the lasting impression left by this Scheherazade-inspired program is not one of overwhelming loss, but of sorrow, fully lived.