Monday, December 31, 2007

The Twelve Days of Listmas: Day Eleven

5 Beirut, The Flying Club Cup

Where debut Gulag Orkestar was Baltic in flavour, The Flying Club Cup is Parisian, Beirut brains Zach Condon wandering the streets of the city of light, Berlitz guide in hand. Only he’s strolling the streets of Eugene Atget’s Paris, specifically Montparnasse, and he’s looking for Jacques Brel. Condon’s a dandy of the highest order, brash and cocksure and in the thrall of all things arty, and at 21 he’s also a true sophomore, reading poetry, getting drunk on lilac wine and spouting Rimbaud. It would be an unforgivable mess if it weren’t so charming.

It’s twice as mature as Gulag, truth be told, and displays a growing comfort with the complexities of song; rich, exotic, romantic, and easy to fall in love with. A whirlwind of diverse instrumentation, cabaret camp and lyrical flights, it makes you wonder what this precocious artist will be capable of once he’s actually lived a little.

4 Dave Douglas Quintet, Live at the Jazz Standard

From 1965 until 1968, Miles Davis led a stunningly good quintet, a band anchored by Herbie Hancock’s keyboards and characterized by the fire and water interplay of Wayne Shorter’s saxophone and Davis’ moody, spare trumpet. It was a unit which eschewed the primal scream approach of much of the contemporary avant-garde in favour of explorations of the outer limits of modal improvisation. The resulting music was dark and evocative, and thanks largely to the sound of Hancock’s electric piano, pointed the way toward the fusion style Davis would later pioneer.

It was, by the end, the tightest band in jazz (Coltrane’s quartet was active until his death in July of ’67), and among the best combos in history, but divergent aspirations and the usual forces of artistic creation pulled it apart. What’s intriguing to consider is what might have been had the band remained intact. Would Miles have gone all-electric? Or would the quintet’s sound have continued to develop on into the 1970s?

Hypotheticals are generally worth the paper they’re printed on, but for the sake or argument let’s posit that trumpeter Dave Douglas is the closest thing we have to Miles Davis in 2007 2008, and that his fine quintet are heirs to the mantle of that great mid-‘60s band. I’ve made the Davis band comparison before, and it is perhaps unfair to Douglas and co., but it is apt. If we can take all that as given, then the music Douglas, tenor Donny McCaslin, keyboardist Uri Caine, bassist James Genus and drummer Clarence Penn are currently making is nothing less than the sound of the Davis band dragged into the ‘70s, built upon the foundation of those ‘60s recordings but accented with more funk, more looseness, more electricity, and more open space.

Live at the Jazz Standard is the latest document of this group, an album meant initially for download only from the Greenleaf Records website (Douglas’ own label), but pressed to CD by popular demand. It follows last year’s Meaning and Mystery, and thanks to a number of new compositions, it qualifies as a new album and not just a live set of previously released work. It shows the quintet in trim fighting shape, lean and agile.

The Dave Douglas Quintet is among the best working bands in jazz today, a fun, loose, but dedicated, lyrical, in-and-out and absorbing musical machine, and one that, despite the content of this review, is ever progressive and forward-thinking. To say that they have taken a ‘60s sound and pushed it into the ‘70s leaves out half the story: this is music for the ‘00s, through and through.

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