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Dave Douglas Tiny Bell Trio: Constellations

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The Tiny Bell Trio, one of several groups Dave Douglas leads, presents a degree of ensemble detail and completeness that is amazing for a band consisting of trumpet, guitar and drums. As restless, jagged and multihued as these performances are, each nevertheless coheres thematically, emotionally, rhythmically or in some way that signifies a common destination. The trio’s ability to collectively change directions and roles in a heartbeat keeps the performances fluid and exciting.

As Douglas says in the brief liner notes, “the primary focus is East European song forms.” Minor keys dominate. But within these elements, we may hear a circus march, a matador song, a spartan ballad, a classical waltz, a slow tango, an echo of Miles Davis’ guitar bands and free jazz clash-and-clank. On the title cut, the trio coalesces around a rhythmic line repeated several times as Douglas’ trumpet mixes angular turns, long lines, singing notes and a rip or two. On “Maquiladora” Brad Shepik’s guitar style and distorted sound can be described as flamenco rock. On “The Gig” Jim Black’s drum breaks are solo dance turns that catapult the trio toward a climax.

In the last year Douglas has received many awards for his work. His trumpet playing is strongly free jazz oriented, and he has plenty of chops and effects to execute anything he imagines. But the trio is as much an instrument as his horn. It does his bidding and heaps inspiration on him at every bend and corner.