Although trumpeter Dave Douglas and pianist Uri Caine have performed and recorded numerous times together in the past, 2014's Present Joys marks the first time they've recorded as a duo. An intimate, lyrical, yet still adventurous album, Present Joys finds the longtime creative friends exploring songs culled from the Sacred Harp songbook, along with their own original compositions. A historical vocal music style that originated in the American South in the 1700s, Sacred Harp music combines elements of Protestant hymns and early American folk music. While many Sacred Harp songs do have lyrics, the genre was largely an a cappella style of music built around shape-note syllables such as fa, sol, la, and mi. Subsequently, it translates nicely to Douglas and Caine's instrumental, classical, and jazz-influenced approach they take here. In fact, fans of Douglas' Tiny Bell Trio's interpretations of Eastern European folk songs, as well as Caine's various jazz reworkings of Mahler and Mozart compositions, will definitely find much to enjoy on Present Joys. Whether it's the lyrical album opener "Soar Away" or the rambling, blues-infused "Ham Fist," the duo seems to perform with an almost preternatural sense of interplay. Similarly, the swinging, New Orleans-inflected title track, the languid "Confidence," and the fractured, impressionistic "End to End" are intimately rendered, endlessly inventive cuts. Ultimately, as the title implies, Present Joys showcases Douglas and Caine interacting in the moment with a thoughtful, creative joy.
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AllMusic Review by Matt Collar