A Single Sky

Dave Douglas

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A Single Sky Review

by Michael G. Nastos

Dave Douglas has achieved many deserved accolades, accomplishing what some may have deemed ambitious and lofty goals as a performer, composer, and arranger. A Single Sky represents yet another checkmark from the "to do" list, his first original modern jazz orchestra effort in conjunction with the Frankfurt Radio Big Band as conducted by longtime friend and fellow arranger Jim McNeely. Rendered as a nine-part suite titled "Delighted States," it has a three-part sub-suite embedded into the magnum opus, inspired by the 2008 U.S. presidential race, originally titled "Letter to America," somewhat modified after election results voted in then-Senator Barack Obama. Douglas is the main trumpet soloist on five of the seven selections, which are very layered, long-winded, developed, and attractive to the ear no matter your political persuasion. Of the three segments addressing the long march toward the world's highest office, "The Presidents" is a modern portrait of perceived power, color, serenity, nobility, and toughness, with vistas not unlike something Aaron Copland might conjure. Where the long, loping, 6/8 swing of "Campaign Trail" suggests not only serious information acquisition, but fun and cartoonish whimsy as well as a rural, cross-country procession, the held-back-to-bursting tones of "Blockbuster" represent a clear victory, though at the outset uncertain, with swaying and elusive melodies suggesting the hard-fought victory eventually came via the horns shouting out in multi-layered, victorious, spontaneous splashes of screams and pure joy. The other tracks are big band remakes of previous items in the Douglas repertoire. Where the title track is evocative of the emancipated feeling in an Americana concept, with trills and an upbeat modal motif, funk and counterpointed ideas dominate. The soulful lead trumpet line of "Tree and Shrub" has Douglas in a brief, organic, reflective mood, while there's serenity and mystery conjured on the lush, meditative, atmospheric statement "Bury Me Standing," with trombonist Christian Jaksj√ł breaking free of the laconic idea. More trills and a 6/8 pace identify "Persistence of Memory," as trombonist Peter Feil and Douglas contrast the low-end horns led by bass clarinetist Rainer Heute, holding up the mezzo piano dynamics. Douglas himself seems liberated in some small fashion, as his solos are imbued with well-defined passion, and the FRB is on top of these charts, playing precisely while also adding only a sight European air to this distinctly American brand of progressive neo-jazz. How followers of Douglas will react to this new wrinkle in his career should be good food for thought, as this ensemble is not likely to tour in support of the project. Nonetheless, it's another large feather in the cap for Douglas, the most widely revered progressive jazz musician to appear in the past 20 years, and for many great reasons. It's not quite up there with the Dave Holland or Maria Schneider big-band efforts, but it's close.

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