One of the things that makes Dave Douglas such a compelling voice in avant-garde jazz is his open-mindedness. The New York-based trumpeter has made a point of exposing himself to a wide variety of music -- everything from Lester Bowie's innovations to classical to East European folk -- and his willingness to be influenced by so many different things has made for a lot of fresh, adventurous albums. Witness is no exception; this 2001 release finds the jazzman being affected by classical as well as Middle Eastern and North African music. This CD offers a continuous nine-part suite that was inspired by different political figures in various parts of the world, although Douglas doesn't get on the microphone and turn Witness into an album of protest songs à la Joan Baez, Ice-T, Bob Marley, or Rage Against the Machine; in fact, the disc is mostly instrumental. Nonetheless, Douglas was thinking of these political figures when he did the composing, and they range from Bangladeshi poet Taslima Nasrin on "Episode for Taslima Nasrin" to Egyptian doctor Nawal El Saadawi on "Woman at Point Zero." Do you have to know anything about these people to appreciate Witness? Absolutely not; you don't have to know anything about Douglas' political beliefs (or even agree with all of them) to be moved by this CD. The trumpeter's melodies and improvisations are substantial regardless of how much you know or don't know about his politics. One track that isn't instrumental is the haunting "Mahfouz," which boasts a spoken-word performance by Tom Waits. Some myopic jazz snobs might be offended that Douglas would feature a pop/rock artist, but that's their problem; the trumpeter is about openness, not dogma, and featuring Waits isn't out of character for him. Witness is yet another album that Douglas can be proud of.
AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson