Constellations was the second album that Dave Douglas recorded with his Tiny Bell Trio, which excluded piano and bass and united the experimental trumpeter with electric guitarist Brad Schoeppach (subsequently changed to Shepik) and drummer Jim Black. Douglas described the trio as a "jazz-Balkan improv" group, and to be sure, East European music is a strong influence on abstract inside/outside originals like "Unhooking the Safety Net," "Hope Ring True," and the probing "Scriabin." Some of Douglas' writing is inspired by sociopolitical situations. "Taking Sides" is an emotional piece that was influenced by the bloody fighting that, in the 1990s, took place in the former Yugoslavia, while "Maquiladora" takes its name from a Spanish word for American-operated factories along the U.S./Mexican border -- the infamous maquiladoras are known for their low pay and dangerous working conditions, and the song's somber mood paints a depressing picture of such an environment. Another high point of the CD is Douglas' interpretation of Herbie Nichols' "The Gig"; the late Nichols is among the unsung heroes of jazz pianism, and Douglas deserves credit for embracing his work. Constellations isn't easy to absorb on the first listen; like a lot of avant-garde jazz, this is music that reveals more and more of its power with each listen.
AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson