Dave Douglas's Charms of the Night Sky Quartet
Wexner Center Performance Space, Columbus
Now may be Dave Douglas's moment in the sun, and the trumpeter is making the most of it. Looking forward to two impending releases on a major record label (RCA/Victor) and currently leading and maintaining six bands, the prolific Douglas brought perhaps the most starkly beautiful of his ensembles, the Charms of the Night Sky Quartet, to the Wexner Center Friday night. One of his two forthcoming releases will be a sequel to the 1998 recording Charms of the Night Sky, featuring the band of the same name. That Douglas continues to tour and record with Charms hints that, far from considering the classical/Eurofolk/chamber jazz ensemble a one-shot deal, Douglas and company have plenty more to say. In concert, the group proved that it has plenty more good things to say.
From the eponymous opener on, the group took a slightly more upbeat approach than the generally somber mood that permeates the album. But still, largely due to the empathy between accordion player Guy Klucevsek and violinist Mark Feldman, Charms reveled in robin's-egg melodies -- music so delicate it made you feel awkward just to shift in your seat. Together, Feldman and Klucevsek could sound like an entire string section. And the room, absolutely quiet throughout, made for the perfect listening environment for a group like this. Though there were moments when Douglas would play out, more often than not, the four musicians dwelled in the pianissimo range of the dynamic spectrum. Douglas took full advantage, often blowing through his horn rather than actually playing.
Bassist Greg Cohen proved especially adept and flexible. On such eclectic pieces as the "5 Part Weather Invention," something Douglas had written to accompany a dance troupe, Cohen shifted effortlessly between the abstract and largely orchestrated first movement and a mean quarter-note walk for the decidedly jazzier second. Perhaps a little jet-lagged, Klucevsek and Feldman looked a little stone-faced through the performance -- though they acquitted themselves expertly. Douglas, beaming and loquacious, couldn't have been more opposite in demeanor. Through his wild and strangely felicitous choices of covers (Nat Adderly's "Little Boy With the Sad Eyes" and the spy theme "Goldfinger"), quirky gestures (such as pulling and whistling through his tuning slides), and wild, Beethoven-quoting cadenzas, Douglas played with incredible brio. The only low point of the evening came toward the middle of the performance, when Douglas featured his band on solo pieces. Feldman didn't get far with his, and Klucevsek didn't get anything going -- only Cohen's lithe bass excursion stood out. -- Aaron Steinberg