Mountain Passages is the debut release for trumpeter/composer Dave Douglas' Greenleaf label. It is a studio recording of a work composed for and originally performed at 2003's Italy's Sound of the Dolomites Festival (I Suoni del Dolomitti). These 12 pieces were composed, per a commission from the festival -- expressly to be played between nine and 12,000 feet above sea level. The performers and festival attendees hiked up the mountain together for the gig. Douglas dedicates the music to his late father Damon who was a mountain runner and mapmaker. Another interesting point of fact is that Douglas was sent a CD of local Landino music when he accepted he commission. Its influence is felt in the wide open, bittersweet melodies that grace many of the tunes here. As has become his trademark, Douglas walks many blurry lines between jazz and folk music, between free jazz improvisation and a painstaking attention to nuance and detail, and between many traditions from pop to post-bop to antiquated near-classical articulations. Accompanied by saxophonist and clarinetist Michael Moore, cellist Peggy Lee, tuba monster Marcus Rojas and Dylan van der Schyff on drums, Douglas creates veritable terrains of interplay between various instruments -- like the dancing harmonics between his trumpet and Moore's clarinet on "Gumshoe" given flight by skittering hi hat and snare work by van der Schyff. There's the noirish blues at the heart of "Twelve Degrees Proof" where saxophones, trumpet, tuba and cello take turns cascading through the backdrop of an intricate yet elegant head. The funky bottom of the tune evokes humorous notions that blend the riotousness of New Orleans improvisation with film music from the 1930s. The moody cello swirl that engages short, sparse tuba lines at the beginning of "Bury Me Standing" offers spacious dynamics and taut timbral control as the work evolves out of the ether, shifting tonal inquiries and nearly ambiguous rhythmic considerations as the lyric whispers itself into being after nearly three minutes and gives way to a porous moody dirge in the middle before becoming an elegy proper. The album closes with an "encore" in "All Is Forgiven," a sweeping, brass-driven ditty that evokes both nostalgia and remembrance in its sprightly joyous verve. In sum, Mountain Passages is another large compositional step for Douglas, whose aesthetic ambition is boundless and whose ability to execute that vision is seemingly limitless.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek