Dave Douglas is widely regarded as being elite among jazz trumpeters these days not just because of a polished technique, but a restlessness that drives him to try something new at least every couple of years. He's had a richly varied career that's gone from playing in Horace Silver's band to leading a jazz-Balkan-improv" Tiny Bell Trio to playing a major role in John Zorn's Masada to getting on the forefront of electro-acoustic jazz with Keystone to celebrating the horn-heavy format of early jazz with a modern twist with Brass Ecstasy.
But Douglas' insights, innovations and risk-taking doesn't end with his music. In 2004 he launched his Greenleaf Music label, and immediately set out to change how jazz is delivered to its fans. He soon made Greenleaf recordings not only readily available as digital downloadsmany times before you can get them on CD or even concerts in digital-only formatbut allows customers to choose between FLAC and mp3 formats.
Douglas saw the digital delivery system as an artistic opportunity, too. He realized that he can now focus on making recordings without the fuss or delay of physical packaging. Not only that, but there's no more of the pressure of filling up the space of a CD media. Together, these new parameters made possible by technology ironically made it easier for Douglas to return to making jazz records the old fashioned way: spontaneously, recorded within a day and running about as long as an old vinyl long player. No filler, just killer, and musicians genuinely playing in the moment.
Douglas took his ideas for a new paradigm in bringing music to fans to another level last June when he launched the Greenleaf Portable Series (GPRS). Now not only is he able to get musiceven more conveniently for listeners: a cloud player, combined with a mobile-optimized website and free mobile apps enable subscribers to listen to streams of Greenleaf music anywhere.
Douglas kicked off the GPS series back then with three digitized albums of completely different approaches to jazz, with completely different supporting personnel, each of which I'll briefly describe below. Due to popular demand from old fashioned types who prefer the tactile joy of physical media (like me), Greenleaf yesterday released a limited edition box set of all three volumes, under the moniker Three Views. Whether it's on the stereo, computer or mobile device, the music can now be enjoyed in a variety of ways, without forcing you to cast your lot with an intermediary like Apple, Google or Amazon. Standing at the intersection of art and technology, it's this direct-to-listener approach that can hopefully lead the way toward a model that reaches more jazz lovers and encourage more jazz musicians to keep making a great product.
Dave Douglas, for that matter, didn't let productivity affect the quality or diversity of his work:
Volume 1: Dave Douglas Brass Ecstasy Rare Metals
Brass Ecstasy is one of Douglas' newer projects, which launched in 2009 with the release of Spirit Moves. Joined by Vincent Chancey on french horn, Luis Bonilla on trombone, Marcus Rojas on tuba, and Nasheet Waits on drums, Brass Ecstasy is now on their third release with Rare Metals. The fascinating thing about this project is that about the only constant from track to track is the instrumentation. It moves from the tempo-shifting Town Hall" with its hints of pre-swing, to the progressive, highly improvisational Thread." But the best treat lies in the one song on here Douglas didn't write, Billy Strayhorn's Lush Life." Reverent, even as it's largely re-harmonized, Douglas' arrangement retains both sass and elegance to this great tune.
Volume 2: Dave Douglas/Ravi Coltrane/Vijay Iyer/Linda Oh/Marcus Gilmore Orange Afternoons
This disc is the straight-up modern jazz album with an all-star lineup indicated in the title. As he does often and in the other two volumes, Douglas stretches out the limits of the genre and makes visits to avant-garde land ("Solato" with a Iver and Gilmore leading the charge into the abyss is of special note). What's perhaps more striking is that even though recording process was hurried, the group manages to sound very polished and it never devolves into a blowing session; there's a whole lot of teamwork here: listen to how well Douglas and Coltrane play well together on The Gulf," for instance.
Volume 3: Dave Douglas So Percussion Bad Mango
This one is the most fun listen of the batch, and it's also Douglas' latest project. Contrasting with a nearly all-horn format of Brass Ecstasy, So Percussion is heavy on percussion type instruments of all kinds. The line-up makes up one of the most unusual convergence of instruments ever: Dave Douglas (trumpet), Eric Beach (estey organ, Ableton, musical saw, toys, metronomes, shruti box, crotales), Adam Sliwinski (marimba, toys, concert bass drum, glockenspiel), Jason Treuting (drum set, melodica, deskbells), and Josh Quillen (korg synthesizer, vocoder, kick drum, snare drum, ride cymbal). In spite of all the percussion, this doesn't come across as a Afro-Cuban or Brazilian jazz genre excursion, but rather, something truly fresh. Rhythms are prominent but aren't always danceable. Douglas' trumpet stands alone on the opposite end of the sonic spectrum, often carrying out the melody with no assistance. But this tonal imbalance is what makes it so compelling; Bad Mango" (video above) is a good example of this. With a touch of electro seeping in, there's a very modern touch to the music even as all that beating about takes center stage. Dave Douglas So Percussion is an idea that hopefully we'll see Douglas explore further in future releases.