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Dave Douglas

Meaning and Mystery (Greenleaf Music)

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Many performers find a niche where they excel (or simply sell), and there they stay. Others make a career of confounding the expectations of audiences and critics. Sometimes, it's "renovating" for its own sake, or attempting to remain relevant (i.e., select Bowie and Madonna phases/reinventions) -- but then, some have too much music within to constrain themselves. One such is jazz trumpeter-composer Dave Douglas.

He's played straight-ahead with Horace Silver and avant garde with John Zorn, backed pop doyenne Sheryl Crow, and led tribute albums to major inspirations Wayne Shorter and Joni Mitchell.

His recurrent quintet, Meaning and Mystery, resists easy summary. While stylistically hard bop, it has unexpected twists and turns aplenty, angularity, and spiky "out" passages (as with "Tim Bits") keeping clear of Young Lion-style formulas of theme-solos-theme. Douglas' nine compositions range from the pensive, suitelike "Invocation" to the slyly impassioned, blues-saturated "Elks Club," evoking Charles Mingus at his peak. Douglas has a clear, rippling, plaintive tone reminiscent of Woody Shaw; new tenor saxophonist Donny McCaslin has a bittersweet, mercurial approach; Uri Caine's tasty electric piano adds some soul-jazz and fusion undertones, and rhythm guys James Genus and Clarence Penn keep things moving but good. Multifaceted, complex, and exhilarating.

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