Dave Douglas – Strange Liberation

Bluebird / RCA

Original release date: January 27th 2004

Amazon CD
 Dave Douglas – Strange Liberation cover


Dave Douglas (trumpet), Bill Frisell (guitar), Chris Potter (saxophone, bass clarinet), Uri Cane (Fender Rhodes piano), Jams Genus (bass), Clarence Penn (drums)


A Single Sky, Strange Liberation, Skeeter-ism, Just Say This, Seventeen, Mountains From The Train, Rock of Billy, The Frisell Dream, Passing Through, The Jones, Catalyst


Based in New York, Dave Douglas is widely active and acknowledged in jazz and in wider experimental musics. In every year since 2000, he has been voted Trumpet Player of the Year in the 'Downbeat' Critics Poll. In 2005, he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship. In 2005, after leaving RCA, he launched his own record label, Greenleaf Music where he has released albums with his Quintet, the electronic sextet Keystone, the chamber ensemble, Nomad, and the brass quintet, Brass Ecstasy. Dave Douglas is a member of John Zorn's Masada and is the artistic director of the Workshop in Jazz and Creative Music at the Banff Center.

When we reviewed the 2006 release 'Meaning and Mystery' (which involved the same musicians minus Bill Frisell and with Donny McCaslin in place of Chris Potter) we noted Dave Douglas' liner note comments about the influence of Miles Davis:

"It should be obvious to anyone who has heard this quintet that I love Miles Davis, and when someone says I'm influenced by Miles Davis I'm flattered. But aren't we all influenced? Anyone involved in American music has to at some point deal with the language of jazz and who could be more central to the modern vision of the music? And as a jumping off point for new quintet music, what better place is there to start? There is room to grow from Davis' music because he created so many open roads........... But the message in my opinion was not to stop there, but to keep growing, exploring and changing the sound and the context."

But, as might be expected from a composer and musician who is so aware of the great strengths of the American tradition in music, also, in a TV interview, he pointed to more wide ranging but equally important influences:

'To understand American music you have to study Mingus and Monk and Wayne Shorter, Leo Smith and Lester Bowie, Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker and Charles Ives and Aaron Copland and John Adams. It's an enormous country with music being made in a lot of different languages and what fascinates me is to be able to be open (to those influences) in as many ways as possible.'

Dave Douglas picture Dave Douglas

In teaming up with guitarist Bill Frisell for 'Strange Liberation', Dave Douglas has a partner who is also deeply innovative within the tradition of American music and who also has some of the genius of Miles Davis. As 'The New Yorker' commented:

'Bill Frisell plays the guitar like Miles Davis played the trumpet: in the hands of such radical thinkers, their instruments simply become different animals. And, like Davis, Frisell loves to have a lot of legroom when he improvises - the space that terrifies others quickens his blood.'

Bill Frisell has often been connected with Americana - the bringing of country, rock and other popular song formats into jazz - via his open chorded, spacey electric guitar approach – the apotheosis of the conventional take on jazz guitar. As he commented to 'Guitar Player' magazine:

"For me, it's really important to keep the melody going all the time, whether you are actually playing it or not, especially when it's some kind of standard tune or familiar song form. A lot of people play the melody and rush right into their solo, almost with an attitude of 'Whew - that's out of the way, now let's really play!' Then they just burn on chord changes, and it doesn't relate to the song anymore. I like to keep that melody going. When you hear Thelonious Monk's piano playing - or horn players like Ben Webster, Miles Davis and Wayne Shorter - you always hear the melody in there. Sonny Rollins is the classic example of that - I've read that he thinks of the words while he's playing the sax, so the song really means something to him. It's not just an excuse to play a bunch of licks over chord changes."

Bill Frisell's playing does often show country influences. 'When I was in Colorado (where he grew up), I never really played that country stuff or even liked it that much, though it was all over the radio. But as I got older, it crept into my music a lot.' But his music is essentially wider than what is implied by the term 'Americana', taking in avant-garde, electronica (via the use of delay and distortion effects) and rock. As he told 'Wired' magazine:

'When I was 16, I was listening to a lot of surfing music, a lot of English rock. Then I saw Wes Montgomery and somehow that kind of turned me around. Later, Jim Hall made a big impression on me and I took some lessons with him. I suppose I play the kind of harmonic things Jim would play but with a sound that comes from Jimi Hendrix'.

Bill Frisell picture Bill Frisell

'Strange Liberation' is composed by Dave Douglas with Bill Frisell in mind as much as a continuation of his music with his quintet. It is a meeting of two minds that produces jazz of astonishing range and complexity yet is founded on memorable, sometime haunting melodic phrases that stay long in the mind.

'A Single Sky' is a short atmospheric opener that leads into the title track, an extended, Miles Davis inspired groove that, with instrumentation based around trumpet, electric guitar and Fender Rhodes with bass, sax and drums as accompaniment comes over as a funked-up cousin of Miles' music in the 'In A Silent Way' period.

'Skeeter-ism' blows in almost as a throw back to an earlier swing band era (featuring Chris Potter's bass clarinet to good effect) before delivering fine, jazzy, solos from Bill Frisell, Uri Caine and Dave Douglas himself.

The ballad-paced 'Just Say This' has Dave Douglas sounding more Miles-like as he plays with Harmond mute in place and this is in excellent juxtaposition to Bill Frisell's open guitar chords as the spiny theme unfolds, eventually opening the way for expansive solos from Chris Potter on tenor sax and Bill Frisell.

'Seventeen' returns to uptempo; Wayne Shorter influenced, with headlong rock-based themes, shifting time signatures and virtuoso soloing all round; a shiny jewel of a performance.

With the meditative 'Mountains From The Train', Bill Frisell's open chords, use of tape loops with George Harrison-like segments playing in reverse, the music enters deeper into Bill Frisell territory. However, Dave Douglas provides a haunting theme (carried on Fender Rhodes and then by the horns in unison) that holds the mood together expertly.

'Rock Of Billy' is upfront rock-a-billy, strongly danceable in a Carl Perkins meets Taj Mahal way, with Bill Frisell's guitar leading the driving music and Uri Cain's Fender Rhodes underpinning it all. Following a neat tempo change there is a searing solo from Dave Douglas and a bluesy work out from Bill Frisell.

'The Frisell Dream' offers a different showcase for the guitarist's take on jazz, with something like the same orchestral feel (carried on unison horns) of the earlier 'Skeeter-ism'. Here he is more noticeably country in his approach.

The short atmospheric piece 'Passing Through' leads onto 'The Jones', again more clearly Miles Davis influenced and with a beautiful theme carried on Harmon-muted trumpet and sax in unison. Solos from Uri Caine and Chris Potter impress.

The closing track, 'The Catalyst' approaches a more fusion-like approach with heady blowing over funk bass lines. Bill Frisell's deep blues riffed guitar cuts across the flow of the music as if it had come in from another world.

This is an exceptional album in every respect and is strongly recommended. RCA have allowed it to fall out of print so you may have to check for availability via MP3.

Star Rating *****

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Related reviews:

Dave Douglas "Meaning And Mystery"

Bill Frisell "Disfarmer"

Home pages:

Dave Douglas
Bill Frisell

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