Music News

Soul on Soul

Trumpeter Dave Douglas, jazz magazine cover boy and darling of the European jazz set, is multifaceted, to be sure. The introspective classicist can suddenly turn into a fiery post-bop improviser, and the eclectic composer can re-emerge as the all-out swinger. Soul on Soul marks the third time Douglas has paid homage to a jazz giant -- this time, the magisterial pianist Mary Lou Williams -- and what we get here, for the most part, is Dave Douglas as composer and expansive arranger. As in his earlier bows to the martyred trumpeter Booker Little and saxophonist Wayne Shorter, he avoids mimicry in favor of an oblique -- call it intuitive -- approach to tribute. The progressive, forward-looking Williams, whose sixty-year career reached from boogie-woogie to post-Ornette experimentation, is a major study involving many sidetracks, and Douglas knows it. With that in mind, he's enlarged his band to include saxophonists Greg Tardy and Chris Speed and trombonist Joshua Roseman, all the better to expand the complex harmonic voicings inherent in Williams classics like "Aries" and the down-and-dirty "Waltz Boogie." It's a good choice: More is more when it comes to unlocking Mary Lou's musical secrets.

On the other hand, nine of the thirteen pieces on this beautifully-recorded CD are Douglas originals -- all of them in the spirit, if not exactly the style, of the honored pianist. While some of his earlier playing sounds intellectualized and -- here's that word again -- self-consciously post-modern, Douglas loosens the reins here and allows Williams's far-reaching musical spirit to flood in. She was a pianist/composer of great emotional intensity, and even her latter-day experiments in dissonance (she died in 1981) were suffused with the blues. Douglas responds in kind. Williams herself seems to stand behind Douglas's gospel-inspired "Blue Heaven," and another original, "Zonish," is so close to the conceptions of her fruitful middle period that it's scary instead of being trite.

The most challenging sideman job here, of course, falls to pianist Uri Caine, who manages to impart the Williams verve without consciously reproducing her playing style. Drummer Joey Baron and bassist James Genus fill out the rhythm section to nice effect, and the great affection with which the project was conceived and executed is everywhere evident. Clearly, Dave Douglas's deconstructive meditations on the jazz masters continue apace.

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Bill Gallo
Contact: Bill Gallo