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Saturday, February 27, 2021

Tributes and Homages (I of III)

By Lee Rice Epstein

Dave Douglas - Dizzy Atmosphere (Greenleaf Music, 2020) ****

Trumpeter Dave Douglas has long been a likely candidate for the mantle of our generation’s Dizzy Gillespie. With similar wit and verve, as well as a groundbreaking partnership with a fiery altoist, Douglas has so far produced a discography as thrilling and surprising as Gillespie’s, and it’s on his early 2020 release where the two champions finally merge. In addition to advocating universal healthcare and jazz education in public schools, Gillespie called for sending a Black astronaut to the moon, volunteering himself, if needed. Douglas takes this long shot and reimagines it for 2020, a time when Gillespie’s ideas are still considered radically leftist. With cover art imagining a trumpet-inspired space station, Douglas’s Dizzy Atmosphere: Dizzy Gillespie at Zero Gravity brilliantly reinterprets and renews Gillespie’s music. The group is a new sextet, with a double-trumpet front line of Douglas and Dave Adewumi, and a dense rhythm section, featuring Matthew Stevens on guitar, Fabian Almazan on piano, Carmen Rothwell on bass, and longtime collaborator Joey Baron on drums.

Something that’s always been as true of Douglas as it was of Gillespie is the leader’s lineups continually evolve and rotate. Pairing himself with Adewumi—for whom the term “emerging” undercuts how much he’s accomplished this early in his career—gives Douglas the chance to obliquely reference Gillespie’s celebrated collaborations with Arturo Sandoval, among others. For example, on their cover of “Manteca,” Douglas and Adewumi toy with the famous melody, comfortably playing it inside and out, while Almazan, Stevens, Rothwell, and Baron lean back on a slightly relaxed groove. Perhaps the most notable aspect of their performance is this looseness. Where others have constricted “Manteca” to straight time, the sextet brings back the raggedness of Gillespie’s lively performances. Mixing things up, on “Pickin’ the Cabbage” (the second of two Gillespie originals), the group locks into a textbook swinging performance of the classic. On the rest of the album, Douglas presents seven new compositions written not in Gillespie’s style as much as in his mood, blending music styles and voicings in imaginative settings. Titles like “Con Almazan” and “Cadillac” nodding towards Gillespie without directly quoting his music. Stevens and Alamazan practically steal the album, playing some fantastic solos and supporting the band with a zip that suits the mood.

Martin Archer - Anthropology Band (Discus Music, 2019) *****


Miles Davis’s so-called electric period parallels Bob Dylan’s in many ways, crucially its embrace by younger generations in the decades that followed. One of those influenced by Davis, in particular, is British saxophonist Martin Archer. Actually, to call Archer a saxophonist only is to do him a disservice. Among his many instruments, he’s a supreme composer and collaborator, creating some of the most dynamic electroacoustic jazz of the moment. Anthropology Band takes Davis’s electric phase as inspiration for a massive, gorgeous double album of the same set of compositions in two settings: first with a septet, and second with a big band featuring sixteen players in all. The core septet has Archer on saxophones and electronics, Chris Sharkey on guitar and electronics, Pat Thomas on keyboards and electronics, Corey Mwamba on vibraphone, Dave Sturt on bass, and Peter Fairclough on drums. For the seventh, and in some ways the most important seat for a Davis-inspired group, Archer features Charlotte Keeffe on trumpet and flugelhorn. Keeffe also serves as arranger, and the results of her collaboration with Archer are quite simply perfect. The septet sparkles throughout the album. Much like Douglas’s group, again it’s Sharkey and Thomas who anchor the compositions with dazzling interactions, with the added delight of Mwamba’s superb vibes. Sturt and Fairclough sit in the proverbial driver’s seat, and Keeffe and Archer blast out front with confident, catchy riffs. At sixteen players, the full ensemble set is an unleashed monster birthed from the realm of Davis’s Jack Johnson era. The addition of a nine-person winds ensemble spreads the music wide, giving a cinematic broadness to Archer and Keeffe’s chunky funk. The additional players are Kim Macari on trumpet, George Murray on trombone, Ben Higham on tuba, Mick Somerset on concert, alto and bass flutes and piccolo, Nathan Bettany on oboe and cor anglais, James Mainwaring on soprano sax, Hannah Brady on alto sax, Riley Stone-Lonergan on tenor, and Alicia Gardener-Trejo on baritone. In addition to the electronics layers heard in the septet, Archer and Keeffe stretch the full range afforded them by the instrumentation. So many artists have attempted to tackle Electric Miles™ but Archer and Keeffe go one better by inhabiting their music with the very spirit of ruthless experimentation that defined the era.