In a press release, Dave Douglas lays out the reasoning behind the title of this second Sound Prints album, Scandal. “We’re not playing by the traditional, or school-taught, rules of jazz,” the trumpeter-composer writes. It is scandalous, he explains further, in today’s ever-more-unpredictable climate, “to question everything about the assumptions made in improvisation,” an activity that “has become all too rare and risky.”
There are times during the 11-track recording—which follows the quintet’s live debut of 2015—when Douglas, saxophonist-composer Joe Lovano, pianist Lawrence Fields, bassist Linda May Han Oh and drummer Joey Baron certainly do flirt with the accepted notions of consistency, conformity and conventionality. Free, open-ended investigations sit side by side with the more straight-ahead; the players stubbornly insist on tossing expectations out the window. Whether that goes so far as being scandalous is questionable, but it sure does make for exciting, often thrilling jazz.
There’s another culprit lurking behind the curtain through all of this: Wayne Shorter. The band nods to his influence, both thematically and spiritually, in its name and in the recording’s program, which includes remakes of two signature Shorter compositions, “Juju” and “Fee Fi Fo Fum,” the latter given a freewheeling, nearly shambolic treatment. And the ceaselessly exploratory zeal that’s marked Shorter’s career is a hallmark of Scandal—in the clip-cloppy, almost comical horn conversation that inhabits Lovano’s “The Corner Tavern”; the juxtaposition of Fields’ tender solo with the carefree, loping rhythm of “Dream State”; and the jumpy tempo of “High Noon.”
Yet somehow it’s actually very comforting, all this suspense and surprise. If this constitutes scandal, we’ll take it over the kind in the news any day.