Of all the kingpins of New York’s once-thriving downtown/Brooklyn improvising scene, Dave Douglas is the only one who’s become a bona fide jazz star. Fame sometimes falls to the undeserving, of course, but Douglas came by his honestly, via sure swing and his versatile and oh-so-virtuosic trumpet technique. Whether playing heraldic open horn or musing quietly with a mute, nailing concert pitch or shying away from it, Douglas will keep shading his tone, which can sound thin as a pie tin or ring like a gong. Even his asides sound clear–the low growls, the thrown-paint high notes. The best of Douglas’s various bands is his New Quintet, heard on the new The Infinite (RCA/Bluebird), with drummer Clarence Penn, bassist James Genus, and pianist Uri Caine, who’s at home in most any post-17th-century keyboard style, on lightly funky Fender Rhodes. Most of the tunes are Douglas’s, spelled by three smart covers–Rufus Wainwright’s “Poses,” Bjork’s “Unison,” and Mary J. Blige’s “Crazy Games.” The contempo repertoire, bobbing electric piano, and echoes of 1968 Miles Davis make Douglas seem like he’s riding this year’s reissue-fueled craze for 70s CTI records, but he gets further into and more out of pop material than most jazz musicians; if you didn’t recognize the borrowed tunes, you’d think they were just nice lines that fit Douglas and tenor saxophonist Chris Potter very well. (On the quintet’s current tour, the tenor saxophonist is Rick Margitza, who when I heard him two weeks ago was playing hard-steaming lines like Michael Brecker, but with a cushier timbre.) Where 80s bands like Wynton Marsalis’s froze Miles’s slippery structures into mannerisms, Douglas’s rhythm trio restores fluidity to the sudden shifts of tempo and texture. Douglas’s flaw is that he can’t always resist flaunting his chops, but this tasteful unit inspires his best behavior. Saturday, May 4, 10 PM, HotHouse, 31 E. Balbo; 312-362-9707.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Michael Johnson.