If there is a downside to an artist of Dave Douglas' stature having his own label, it is that expectations can be exceedingly high. Many of Douglas' albums have been superb, so when the trumpeter produces an album and releases it on his label, Greenleaf Music, one naturally has high hopes -- perhaps unrealistically high. Even artists with Douglas' impressive résumé aren't going to hit home runs 100 percent of the time. But Michael Bates' Douglas-produced Clockwise doesn't disappoint. In fact, this Greenleaf release boasts some of Bates' most memorable work. Recorded in January 2008, Clockwise finds bassist Bates leading his cohesive avant-garde quartet Outside Sources (which also includes saxman/clarinetist Quinsin Nachoff, trumpeter Russ Johnson, and drummer Jeff Davis). Bates, true to form, achieves a healthy balance of structure and freedom; the playing is quite free, but Clockwise isn't an exercise in atonal chaos. Composition is a high priority (Bates wrote all of the material himself), and every one of the songs on Clockwise has a discernible melody. They may not be melodies that are terribly accessible or easy to absorb by mainstream standards -- this is abstract, cerebral, challenging music, to be sure -- but they are discernible melodies nonetheless. The compositional influences that have served Bates well on previous releases (including Douglas and Ornette Coleman) continue to serve him well on Clockwise, and given Bates' appreciation of Douglas' writing, it is highly appropriate that Douglas serves as both producer and executive producer on this 52-minute CD. Douglas' input is an obvious plus on Clockwise, which is an album that Bates and his colleagues should be proud to have their names attached to.
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AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson