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Dave Douglas with the Westerlies & Anwar Marshall: Little Giant Still Life (Greenleaf)

Review of album from trumpeter in collaboration with brass quartet and drummer

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Cover of Dave Douglas with the Westerlies & Anwar Marshall album Little Giant Still Life
Cover of Dave Douglas with the Westerlies & Anwar Marshall album Little Giant Still Life

In drummer Anwar Marshall and brass quartet the Westerlies, Dave Douglas has found a perfect set of collaborators—five individuals who are all as adept as he at both celebrating jazz traditions and joyously ripping them apart. Douglas has gone down the general writing-for-brass-ensemble path before, of course, most notably for his Brass Ecstasy project. But on those recordings, Marcus Rojas’ tuba provides a more or less consistent low-end root. Here the frequency range is tighter—three trumpets (Douglas, Riley Mulherkar and Zubin Hensler), two trombones (Andy Clausen and Willem de Koch), no tuba—and the music often inhabits a harmonically ambiguous zone, floating from one suggestion of a key signature to another over the constantly changing rhythmic map sketched out by Marshall.

One thing that’s far from ambiguous is the relish that the Westerlies take in attacking Douglas’ tunes, all 12 of which were written with them in mind. If you played the melody of “Arcade” on a single monophonic instrument, it would probably sound like a typical bop-style head, all speed, interval leaps and jerky rhythms. But when these guys play it, they harmonize it in minor seconds, giving it an out-of-focus queasiness that’s pleasantly reminiscent of Oliver Nelson’s arrangement style. On “Percolator” the name pretty much says it all, as the brass players bubble and pop in endearing fashion. “Swing Landscape” is the album’s centerpiece, traveling from meditation to party and back again, full of dense chords that only take a tiny trombone slide to turn from sweet to sour. Douglas’ deep-blues solo in the middle is a reminder that even when this music sounds out, emotionally speaking it’s always zeroed in.

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