Despite sweeping the Jazz Journalist Awards this past year and being selected as Jazz Times "Artist of the Year", Douglas may still be best known as John Zorn's terse trumpet foil in Masada (arguably THE great jazz group of the nineties). It's a shame because its really only one sliver of the guy's forest-sized output.
In the past couple years the trumpeter-composer-bandleader has been clear-cutting the avant jazz scene and making kindling of the hurdles of jazz's notions of structure and improvisation in the process. Best of all, he's got an appetite for a genuine New Music hybrid and wretches at thoughts of formalism. Amazingly, he's attracted the attention of a Big Kahuna of the music biz, BMG, who seem content on allowing the thirty-something entrepreneur free rein having released a work by his Sextet and now his chamber group Charms of the Night Sky.
Charms may be his quietest group but its also the most genre blurring. Traveling from Eastern Europe to Argentina to contemporary classical minimalism, Charms does the gypsy thing with a jazz edge. From the dusky title cut (pure Miles misterioso) through the brooding "Words for a Loss" to a dirge-like cover of Shirley Bassey's "Goldfinger", the mood is mostly sparse. But there's spice too. The two-part suite "The Branches" is the kind of yin-yang structural alchemy Douglas excels at - turning a tribute to klezmer great Dave Tarras into a free exercise.
His suite for Mingus pianist Jaki Byard begins like Steve Reich and ends in buoyant Monk tones. "On Our Way Home" sounds like a Turkish Mariachi. It's an aural landscape that zips by like mile posts at 70 m.p.h., but it's fresh, alive and oh-so-welcome in the age of smooth schlock.