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New jazz album is ‘strangely liberating’

Christopher Kepner | Thursday, March 4, 2004

Strange Liberation pairs Dave Douglas’ current working quintet with guest guitarist Bill Frisell. The leader expresses sheer joy at the opportunity to collaborate with Frisell, “one of the truly great American composers and musicians,” and has desired to do so since 1987, when “hearing the way Bill and his band were playing was a revelation to [him].”The music on this record is very modern in style. The tunes exhibit long, drawn-out themes for the most part, and the solos, especially Frisell’s and Caine’s, can be anything but traditional at times. Some of the tracks on this album, most notably “Just Say This” and “Mountains From the Train,” might even be classified as tone poems.Douglas (trumpet) has created a group with a very unique, very refreshing sound.Clarence Penn (drums) has the spectacular ability to recognize the time in all of its subdivisions and exploit them in such a way that the feel is always fresh and never tiresome for even a measure. Like a great drummer should, he takes control of the music and drives it to where it wants to go based on the feeling of the other players. His fills are simple and tasteful, and his brushwork incredible.Bill Frisell is a star whose playing shines on pretty much every album on which he appears, and Strange Liberation is no exception. He carves out his own little niche nicely in a group that has played together extensively without him. His signature bluegrass twang comes out at just the right moments, and his harmonics and palm mutes fit so well that you could go as far as to call them necessary to the music. Frisell has an extremely creative sense of melody when improvising, weaving in and out of the chords with a master’s touch and staying right in the pocket, no matter how syncopated his rhythmic figures may seem. As an accompanist, he employs a superior repertoire of chord voicings to create any color or mood that he chooses.Chris Potter is another player who challenges you to find a bad spot on his discography, both as a leader and a sideman. He and Douglas play very well together, which is a testament not only to both players’ ability but to Douglas’s fantastic composing.Uri Caine utilizes the sound of the Fender Rhodes with tremendous skill, adding a certain ambiance to the group that a normal piano wouldn’t achieve. He accounts for Frisell’s addition to the rhythm section by pulling back and sharing the accompaniment duties. Both players respect one another’s space under the soloist.James Genus rounds out the rhythm section very well. His playing is very lyrical at times, and will frequently neglect a regular pulse in favor of colorful lines that not only hold the group together, but add another voice to the mix.This is definitely an album that you can listen to all the way through. The title track alternates between straight and swing feels, or broken swing, and features Douglas improvising over the melody. “Skeeter-ism” is a great tune that’s very loosely based on “Blue Monk,” and alternates between a bouncy double-time feel and a gospel-esque groove. “Just Say This” is a somber ballad, and Douglas’s subtle and classy tribute to those affected by the 9/11 tragedy. “Mountains From the Train” is a freer, more experimental piece that features Frisell’s mastery of loop and effect pedals for the guitar. All songs were composed by Douglas.Strange Liberation is a tremendous album that both the student of jazz and the casual listener should be able to enjoy.

Contact Christopher Kepner at [email protected]