Produced with the support of the French American Jazz Exchange, Dada People is trumpeter Dave Douglas and pianist Frank Woeste’s paean to surrealist photographer Man Ray (he’s the gent glaring from the cover photo, alongside fellow Surrealist Salvador Dalí). While these 10 tracks never reach, or even really attempt, the heights of abstracted hysteria found in the most important Dadaist art, there’s still enough inspiration, passion and style in this music to satisfy listeners of any aesthetic leaning.
Douglas and Woeste evenly split compositional duties here, the tunes they create presenting an often beguiling mix of classicism and more exploratory notions. Douglas’ “Transparent” plunges into pointillistic fragmentation; Woeste plinks the uppermost registers of his keyboard before battling it out with Douglas, dipping-and-darting bassist Matt Brewer and coolly tumultuous drummer Clarence Penn. The pianist’s “Noire et Blanche” offers broad-shouldered funk rhythm and guitar-style riffs from Woeste’s Fender Rhodes, while that instrument glides gracefully around Douglas’ nimble muted lines on the trumpeter’s “Spork.” Woeste’s “Mains Libres” binds smooth-swinging trumpet and piano to a driving, harmonically bottomless framework from Penn. Brisk, pointed solos from Brewer and Woeste ignite the quietly insistent “Danger Dancer.”
Despite its more obvious inspirations, Dada People is at its most powerful when drawing on another French-named artistic tradition, noir. Douglas’ “Oedipe” blends bittersweet lonely-horn atmospherics with minimalist Satie-inspired piano, and the trumpeter’s “Emergent” finds Woeste and Penn’s tumbling harmonies giving way to burnished horn lines and a tasteful solo from Brewer. “Montparnasse,” Woeste’s ode to Ray’s muse Alice Prin, is alternately forlorn and grandly romantic, and Brewer finds his most elegant showcase on Douglas’ midnight-hour lament “Longings and Illusions.” Even when its sound is more Raymond Chandler than Man Ray, Dada People is stimulating and enjoyable.