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Dave Douglas: Meaning and Mystery

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Trumpeter Dave Douglas gets himself involved in a lot of projects, but his quintet has become his flagship group and the one that produces the most compelling results. Its new album, Meaning and Mystery, is a fully realized statement by a band that draws on the high points of jazz history and breaks new ground.

Douglas says he was thinking of such legends as Lee Morgan, Woody Shaw, Joe Henderson, Cannonball Adderley and Anthony Braxton while working on this record, but its most obvious forebear is the late ’60s and early ’70s work of Miles Davis. It’s not just that Uri Caine is a magician on the Fender Rhodes electric piano. It’s the entire aural presence of this group, which can slowcook, simmer high and boil over-sometimes all in the same song. Douglas’ writing and leadership may get the credit, but Caine and drummer Clarence Penn are the propulsive forces here. Penn’s dynamic playing on “The Sheik of Things to Come” is mind-blowing, reminiscent of Marvin “Smitty” Smith’s standard-setting work on Dave Holland’s Extension album. Caine, interestingly, is the guy responsible for keeping time on “Song for Suzannah” while the rest of the band improvises, which gives bassist James Genus the freedom to solo in double and triple time without having to worry much about the meter.

The group’s new saxophonist, Donny McCaslin (who replaces the suddenly overworked Chris Potter), fits in nicely, playing a contrapuntal solo on “Culture Wars” (a tune that recalls Miles Davis’ “Bitches Brew”) and conversing frenetically with Douglas on “Tim Bits.” This is a band playing with confidence and authority.