There is a resonance of Miles Davis on “Molten Sunset,” the lead song from High Risk by trumpeter Dave Douglas. The tone is brawny but bruised and forlorn. The attendant musicians beneath the clarion horn are in a cavernous mesh, a Miles touchstone from Sketches of Spain to Bitches Brew and beyond. But this “Molten” mix is a heavy staccato stew that sounds brand new. The iconic magic of that signature trumpet sound engages a more contemporary cutting-edge context.
True to its title, High Risk is Douglas’ most daring foray into electronic-oriented music. His Keystone sextet had DJ Olive, but its undeniable electronic bent was leavened by the presence of saxophonist Marcus Strickland beside Douglas on the frontline, and by drummer Gene Lake, who plays both free and straight-ahead, but with a jazz sensibility. High Risk features the rock-infused propulsion of Mark Guiliana on acoustic and electric drums, and Jonathan Maron, the electric and synth bassist from Groove Collective, along with the Detroit DJ Shigeto on “electronics.” Douglas is the lone horn player.
Figuratively and literally, Douglas has a blast. His three bandmates tear into his seven originals with harsh beats and innovative textural adornments both crisp and wafting, a sonic template that provides him the choice to either spar or soar, and both strategies generate ideal showcases for his often-underappreciated brass chops. Some songs are more pointillistic (“Household Item,” “Tied Together”), while others create a flow (“Etiquette,” “Cardinals”) or sweeping arc (“High Risk”). But the constant is a palpable feeling of self-discovery; musicians from different genres melding and welding an industrial-strength union that yielded 41 minutes of mostly transcendent music in a single session.