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Spotlights [Issue # 7 ]
Dave Douglas: Strange Liberation


Looking through a 1967 Martin Luther King, Jr. speech, Dave Douglas came across Dr. King’s remarks that called Americans “strange liberators” as seen through the eyes of the Vietnamese. Under a similar canopy of skewed perceptions of Americans from abroad, Douglas explores his emotions that have been offset by the policies, practices, and pursuits of the current administration.

To find this perturbing sense of freedom, Douglas returns with an all-star supporting cast featuring the bass work of James Genus, Clarence Penn on drums, the flexible Fender Rhodes of Uri Caine, the standout sax playing of Chris Potter, and this time, weaving in the added layer of Bill Frisell on guitar. Douglas says that tracks featuring Frisell are “written with him in mind.” “Bill forces us to play different,” says Douglas. “He helps to blend the group while adding another twist.”

Douglas’ Strange Liberation features a lot of freedom, but a freedom much different than “Free Jazz” where group members simply play in the moment. “As an American, these melodies represent an ambiguous and difficult time,” says Douglas. At present, he is particularly uncomfortable with America’s role around the world. This is not an album to comfort. Rather, it requires one to sink into the hypnotic textures supplied by the rhythm section and follow the stirring elocution of the horn players.

On Strange Liberation, there are crossroads that often lead to other crossroads. With so much unpredictability, the album feels like a journey on every listen. “Skeeter-ism” wants to strut into a medium-tempo swing, but playfully reverts back to open blues wanderings. “Seventeen” is reminiscent of Wayne Shorter’s “Paraphernalia.” “Rock of Billy” is a rockin’ swing that serves as a wakeup call in the fashion of Lee Morgan’s “Sidewinder.” It is no surprise that Douglas names an eclectic company of influences including: Igor Stravinsky, John Coltrane, Stevie Wonder, Joni Mitchell, Charles Mingus, and Bela Bartok.

This album joins the ethereal, the seductive, the thought provoking, the ill at ease, and the wholesome in a pocket of solar exploration. There is a bubble around every groove and Douglas has the solos burst through each one. Strange Liberation flaunts a vat of musical ideas and energy.

Douglas also strangely liberates in the way his tunes conclude. No ending chord leaves one settled. This group is bound by no formula. Their complex forms often sound as esoteric as the album’s concept. While Strange Liberation is not the most easily accessible Jazz in town, it harnesses some chic tangential playing with unrelenting drive provided by Genus and Penn.
Dave Douglas’ uneasy awareness of the times is reflected in his musical expression. Strange Liberation “depends on a ringing, sustained, fatter sound,” says Douglas. In playing beyond the obvious, Douglas’ Picasso-like pastorals and daring downbeats are sure to find you freed in an unexpected manner.

Strange Liberation

Strange Liberation Dave Douglas Strange Liberation

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