Trumpeter Dave Douglas doesn’t perform tributes so much as he fences with the music of jazz artists who are criminally underrated (Booker Little), towering in scope (Wayne Shorter), or both (Mary Lou Williams). Dizzy Atmosphere carries a special frisson: It’s been 20 years since Douglas released his last recording of such a tribute (the Williams-inspired Soul on Soul), and none of his previous objects of connection were as daunting as the work of Dizzy Gillespie.
As usual, Douglas has immersed himself in an artist’s catalog and emerged with more vaguely sourced impressions than revamped covers. Even so, there are unmistakable signs of his respect. The second horn in the Dizzy Atmosphere sextet is a younger trumpeter, newcomer Dave Adewumi, a nod to Dizzy’s mentorship of Lee Morgan, Fats Navarro, and many others. There are merely two covers, but by Douglas’ standard, both are faithfully rendered; the Afro-Cuban rouser “Manteca” is probably Dizzy’s most beloved composition, and the obscure “Pickin’ the Cabbage,” written for the Cab Calloway Orchestra, gets to Dizzy’s big-band roots, delightfully evoking the showmanship he cribbed from Calloway.
But the bulk of Dizzy Atmosphere focuses on intra-ensemble dynamics. There are as many ballads as burners, and the backing textures from pianist Fabian Almazan and guitarist Matthew Stevens are as vital to the enterprise as their solos. When Douglas first showcased his Dizzy project at a February 2018 Jazz at Lincoln Center performance, quintessential texture dude Bill Frisell was on guitar, but Stevens may be an improvement—his sound less familiar, with harder fuzz and a sharper glow.
Finally, Dizzy Atmosphere gives Douglas opportunity to flex his trumpet chops. His clarion pealing and deft flurries are seamlessly abetted by Adewumi, supplementing the groove on the melodic glide of “Cadillac” and the semi-spiritual closer “We Pray.” A little Dizzy, but clear-headed Douglas through and through.