What a pleasure it is to hear this recording of pieces commissioned for composer/trumpeter/bandleader Dave Douglas and his ensembles to accompany performances by the Trisha Brown Dance Company. By 2001, Douglas had proven to have appeal beyond the more narrowly avant-garde New York downtown scene where he was ensconced throughout much of the '90s, and El Trilogy presents a fine example of his broadened appeal. For one thing, Charms of the Night Sky (Douglas on trumpet along with accordionist Guy Klucevsek, violinist Mark Feldman, and bassist Greg Cohen), presented on most of the CD, was always one of Douglas' most warmly beautiful outlets, with intimate, evocative, and lyrical qualities that effectively balanced the rigorous and challenging compositional and improvisational aspects of Douglas' conception. And El Trilogy includes some added bonuses; listeners not only get the Charms band, but also the core quartet supplemented by saxophonist/clarinetist Greg Tardy (who also appears on Douglas' acclaimed sextet release Soul on Soul) and free jazz whirlwind drummer Susie Ibarra, as well as a quartet of Douglas, Tardy, Cohen, and Ibarra performing a sometimes soulful, sometimes swinging two-part opus dedicated to Lindy Hopper Leon James. While informed by jazz, Eastern European folk, and modern classical influences, ultimately this is pure Dave Douglas music through and through, and highlights are many. Certainly "Prairie," which begins the five-part "Groove and Countermove," is one of Douglas' all-time loveliest pieces, the type of sweeping, Copland-esque Americana that Bill Frisell has aimed for (and sometimes hit, particularly with help from Klucevsek). At the time of this recording, Douglas had led at least seven separate ensembles, played a major role in John Zorn's Masada, and served as collaborator or sideman on a slew of additional projects. It's a tribute to his multifaceted talent that after all he had accomplished thus far in his career, he was able to excel in yet another setting, as a composer of challenging yet engaging music for contemporary dance. And while the visual component of the dance project itself is obviously missing from the experience of this CD, the music of El Trilogy fully stands on its own merits.
AllMusic Review by Dave Lynch