Dave Douglas Quintet

Meaning and Mystery
Greenleaf Music GRE-04

Reminiscent of Miles Davis’ ability to replace one notable saxophonist with another in his classic bands, trumpeter Dave Douglas has tapped tenor saxophonist Donny McCaslin to succeed Chris Potter and – briefly – Rick Margitza in his working quintet’s front line.

California native McCaslin, who played with the Mingus Big Band and Maria Schneider’s Jazz Orchestra, at points injects rubato comments, but usually lets his riffing arpeggios serve as foils to Douglas’ trumpeting multiphonics. Dutiful on his first CD with the band, McCaslin’s musical relationship vis-à-vis the mercurial brassman is still somewhat diffident – like Hank Mobley’s was with Davis.

Nonetheless, just because the combo line-up mirrors that of Davis’ classic 1970s band, down to Uri Caine concentrating on the Fender Rhodes, this isn’t an overtly Milesian CD. Unfazed by historical comparisons, the quintet’s work is less strained than that of any comparable Davis band. Playing nine Douglas compositions, the five – understated bassist James Genus and tempo-twisting drummer Clarence Penn complete the group – are confident in their roles as codifiers and extenders. Relaxed, and without the need to prove their worth to anyone, the band creates uniformly well-played freebop.

Some Douglas lines sound immediately familiar, so it’s his quicksilver note skimming, Penn’s dramatic scene-setting, and Caine’s carefully measured comping and throbbing undercurrents that give these tunes their individuality. “Blues to Steve Lacy”, for instance, a heartfelt standout, combines vaguely Semitic, muted trumpet tones with calming vibrated trills from the saxophone.

CanCon disappointment: Douglas insists that “Tim Bits”, a slurry stop-time confection of munching reeds and brass plus rhythmic sprinkles from Penn is “not a tribute to the Canadian donut and coffee shop” (Tim Horton's).

— Ken Waxman