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Live Review: Dave Douglas at the Vancouver International Jazz Festival

Dave Douglas
Dave Douglas

Dave Douglas has performed in enough of the 16 editions of the Vancouver International Jazz Festival that most old festival hands are stumped to name them all. The chronology of these performances parallels the arc of the trumpeter’s remarkable ascent. Tiny Bell Unit; initial encounters with Han Bennink; Charms of the Night Sky; his Quartet with Chris Potter; Sanctuary. Along the way, Douglas has collaborated with Vancouver musicians: several years ago, his playing was a main ingredient to the success of clarinetist Francois Houle’s John Carter tribute; more recently he was part of an improvising quartet with French reed player Louis Sclavis and two mainstays of the Vancouver creative music scene, cellist Peggy Lee and drummer Dylan van der Schyff. With Lee home with her and van der Schyff’s newly arrived second son, Curtis, bassist Barre Phillips was deputized for the reprise, topping a double bill with Tim Berne’s Hard Cell at the Vancouver East Cultural Center on June 29.

Neither Douglas nor Sclavis subscribe to the notion that improvised music must emerge from a gathering swirl of phonemes. Rather, they immediately throw out a line with a specific shape, tonal center and cultural reference, fully confident that the other will respond in kind. This proved to be an approach that Phillips thrived on, as it tapped his sure sense of counterpoint and timbral shading. With van der Schyff articulating the pulse of the music with subtle dancing rhythms, occasionally punctuated with bowed cymbals and hand-rubbed drum heads, the improvisations bypassed the initial fragmentary tentativeness that are often part and parcel of such encounters. Instead, their dialogues frequently had an idiomatic facet, usually introduced by Douglas, who, over the course of the set, summoned the blues and cried out Balkan melodies. Douglas also demonstrated a dependable feel for when to end an improvisation, which contributed to the crisp pace of the performance. Subsequently, the improvisations contained enough structural hooks and fireworks to trigger unusually thunderous ovations, which wags at the “Clutch” chalked up to “the Dave effect.”

The next night, the prodigious Douglas’ New Quintet made its Canadian premiere at the Vogue Theater. At first, the replacement of the Steinway grand piano in the opening set by the Potter Quartet’s Kevin Hayes with a Fender Rhodes during intermission caused a moan or two among the balcony diehards. When Uri Caine slid into reverb-rich block chords at the top of the set, however, it was obvious that Caine could distill a wealth of classical chops in running the voodoo down, much the way Chick Corea did for Miles Davis. His lush voicings, dazzling unisons and oddly syncopated asides repeatedly sent a chain reaction through Douglas’ blue-chip band, which was rounded out by bassist James Genus, drummer Clarence Penn (who displayed a harder edge than in his set with Potter) and saxophonist Yosvany Terry. The compositional brew spanned sprinting bop, Dukish blues and folkish lyricism, all of which Douglas twined together with his trademark erudition and charm. With the New Quintet, Douglas has both the band and the book for a long run on the festival circuit.

In their opening sets, Berne and Potter supported recent releases. In Berne’s case, that meant long, multisectioned pieces that entailed industrial strength grooves, angular notated passages and extended outward bound improvising. Yet, the close rapport between the altoist and keyboardist Craig Taborn and drummer Tom Rainey made Hard Cell one of the more compelling ensembles of the festival. They could easily steal the audience from a slacking headliner. Potter handed in a relatively polite set, but still managed to flex his considerable muscle as a tenor player. He also gave his cohorts plenty of solo space, which was particularly well used by bassist Scott Colley.

Originally Published