There is indeed a spirit that moves through Dave Douglas' first Brass Ecstasy recording: the late Lester Bowie. Bowie's Brass Fantasy group cut a few compelling albums that combined cover versions of all sorts of music -- as well as originals -- that were arranged for a brass orchestra. The most famous of these, The Great Pretender, is an obvious model for Douglas on this outing. The four brass players include Vincent Chancey on French horn, Luis Bonilla on trombone, Marcus Rojas playing the tuba, and Douglas, of course, on trumpet. Ace drummer Nasheet Waits is the drummer. Of the 11 tunes here, nine are originals. The two covers are standouts in how they strike the different ends of the spectrum: Otis Redding and Steve Cropper's "Mister Pitiful" is a three-minute romp that could be a hit single all over again if we had anything like radio anymore. Its arrangement combines Memphis grit with New Orleans Basin Street joy, and the chart, through straightforward, has some beautifully subtle harmonic touches. The other cover, Hank Williams' "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" (which has become somewhat of a staple of Douglas' generation of jazzmen), is a bit longer, and its arrangement, at least in the intro, evokes the Gil Evans arrangement approach to harmony and dynamic; it's soft, elongated, elegant and spare, and deeply moving. Douglas' muted trumpet sings the melody very quietly with contrasting, near contrapuntal harmonics and a bluesy improvisation on the lyric in the second verse as Rojas' tuba keeps a steady one-two bassline.
It's Douglas' originals that really count here, however. There are two fine tribute pieces. "Bowie" is the most provocative in that it pits freedom and form against one another from the jump. The rhythmic pulse of the drum kit, the trumpet, and the trombone go right into the fray together with that French horn softening those blows just a shade. Yet the production is so warm and natural that there are no shrill edges despite the adventurous improvisation. The march in the middle of the piece -- acting as a bridge -- is a wonderful touch and captures the spirit of the title's subject perfectly. "Rava" is the most deeply personal tune on the set. The American jazz trumpet tradition that reached Europe in the '50s and '60s was turned into something gorgeously modern and lyrically sophisticated. Here, it comes back home with tradition and expressionistic textures as Douglas pays tribute to one of his influences. "Orujo," with its pan-Latin rhythmic approach and syncopated horn lines, juxtaposes traditions in perfect balance with the blues added as the great equalizer in its lyric feel. This track gives way to the adventurous yet lush harmonics of "The View from Blue Mountain." They are completely and seamlessly symmetrical, applied in ascending and descending order rather than in a horizontal sprawl, and clearly touched by the music of Nino Rota. In sum, Spirit Moves is a welcome departure for Douglas, who has been working with his longtime electric band and more recently with his great Keystone group. It's beautiful because, though it moves radically from the concerns of his other groups, it does indeed restate his deep love for the tradition while expressing his forward-thinking notions of group interplay as well as his own healthy, warm sense of humor.