During his appearance at Winter Jazzfest 2017, saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings implored the audience that “We need new songs, new hymns, new myths.” Uplift, the latest album from the prolific trumpeter Dave Douglas, is, albeit indirectly, a response to Hutchings’ plea. The record’s 12 tracks ring as treatises in musical form rather than popular songs or hymns, but that tone stems from the nature of the work as a whole. Douglas wrote Uplift as an assessment of, and prescription for, the current political climate of the United States. You can hear all the turmoil, zeal, and soul-searching that’s playing out across the country in every measure. The message comes across with a subtle radicality, like Christ’s preaching of the Good News across Galilee.
The sextet Douglas assembled for the project—including Joe Lovano on multiple reeds as well as guitarists Julian Lage and Mary Halvorson—plays in the mold of Henry Threadgill’s Zooid as a pulsing, slippery collective of improvisers. It’s thoroughly democratic music. On “Every Town” the horns and guitars rise and fall alongside the melody, like the voices of those still seeking answers after every mass shooting. On the titanic, lumbering “Love Is a Battle,” those same voices roil in a din of fragmented ideas and phrases as they struggle for your attention. Later they condense into the urgent, anthemic rock number “Sharing a Small Planet,” which hits with the intensity of the E Street Band on all cylinders.
After working through the issues, Douglas finally shares his vision on “The Garden,” where the melody grows from a wasteland to a soaring, angular exultation to a world in which all six musicians fall into an agreement: “Truth Is Truth.”