Dave Douglas / Keystone

Spark of Being

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On June 22 of 2010, Dave Douglas and Keystone (his electric group) issued their soundtrack to experimental filmmaker Bill Morrison's Spark of Being. The film, a meditation on humanity and its relationship to technology, used Mary Shelley's Frankenstein as its muse. It was comprised of new, archival, and distressed footage. Douglas has always been interested in science's relationship to the natural world, and human life was a perfect collaborator. The resulting soundtrack was beautifully constructed to underscore the images; like all soundtracks, however, the music was confined by them as well. Spark of Bering: Expand is the second part in this trilogy. It focuses on and experiments with themes from some of the original compositions, but is not bound by them. They are intricately related, but also provide additional depth of field in sonic, textural, and dynamic ideas for Keystone -- Douglas, laptop and trumpet; Marcus Strickland, tenor saxophone; Adam Benjamin, Rhodes; Brad Jones, Ampeg Baby Bass; drummer Gene Lake; and DJ Olive on turntables and laptop -- and their nearly boundless creativity and curiosity. These seven tunes were recorded in Standford University's Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics. The location and even the theme may sound clinical; the music is anything but. It is adventurous in its use of electronics, but never compromises Douglas' compositional gifts or his innate dedication to jazz improvisation. "Spark of Being" is a wonderfully subdued tune that uses lyric melody from modal blues and employs the use of ambient sounds from laptop-generated sources as well as Rhodes piano. "Creature" is warm but improvisationally stretches wide, as piano, tenor, and muted trumpet work out an elaborate melody line, heightened dimensionally by the sounds of gulls, dolphins, and other animals. "Tree Ring Circus" is a funkier number that, despite its use of the popping Baby Bass line, distorted Rhodes, and latop harmonics, features a stellar contrapuntal melodic investigation by Douglas and Strickland. "Observer" and "Travelogue" are likewise more synthetic, but the horns keep them firmly inside the jazz idiom underscored by funky breaks and basslines. In sum, Spark of Being: Expand isn't just a worthy successor to the soundtrack. It is a superior album. It makes use of all of Douglas' and Keystone's sophisticated gifts provocatively yet soulfully.

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