Dave Douglas & Brass Ecstasy
A veritable jazz journeyman, trumpeter Dave Douglas has mastered both the West Coast school of cool with the SFJAZZ Collective and the downtown NYC urgency of John Zorn’s frantic free-jazz troupe Masada. So when the 46-year-old composer was tapped to write a new piece for last year’s landmark 30th anniversary of the Chicago Jazz Festival, it was a perfect opportunity to meet the two halfway—both stylistically and geographically. The result, “Chicago Calling: Bowie, Barack and Brass,” was a reverent nod to Lester Bowie, the onetime AACM trumpeter and Art Ensemble of Chicago cofounder who blurred the lines between avant-garde and pop with his horn-heavy nonet, Brass Fantasy.
Since then, Douglas has jump-started his latest vehicle, Brass Ecstasy, a quintet featuring a four-horn-heavy front line doubling as the rhythm section. Though not an explicit tribute, Ecstasy carries Bowie’s anything-goes ethos, enlisting two members of Fantasy.
Anchored by nimble drummer Nasheet Waits, they all get behind Douglas on the group’s debut, Spirit Moves. Self-released on his Greenleaf label, the album has a track list that reads like a string of influences, with tunes spanning burning postbop (“Bowie”), autumnal balladry (“Rava,” for Italian trumpeter Enrico Rava) and playful bebop (“Fats,” for brass pioneer Fats Navarro).
The brass-band tradition began in New Orleans, and a Big Easy vibe is in full effect on the lazy second-line shuffle “Great Awakening” and the deep groover “Orujo,” driven by Marcus Roja’s thumping tuba lines.
Three covers reveal a stylistic freewill, giving lip service to tunes by Otis Redding, Hank Williams and Rufus Wainwright. It’s all fair game for Douglas, who—despite his emphatic reverence for the past—remains a restless spirit.
Dave Douglas & Brass Ecstasy play the Jazz Showcase Friday 26–Sunday 28.