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.”