Dave Douglas

Little Giant Still Life
Greenleaf Music GRE-CD-1058

Little Giant Still Life is a capillary showcase featuring a dozen new compositions by trumpeter Dave Douglas, interpreted by the composer, The Westerlies brass quartet and drummer Anwar Marshall. Inspired by the bright color palate of painter Stuart Davis, Douglas’ tunes also include episodes of darkness since they were written during the 2016 American presidential race. While echoing New Orleans marching bands and brass ensembles is common in concert music, this collection of mostly spirit-lifters with brief, varicolored solos, in the main proves that with the proper arrangements – musical or otherwise – additions textures from strings or reeds aren’t needed.

Douglas of course has spent decades working with everyone from John Zorn to Mat Mitchell. He has experimented with brass/percussion ensembles in the past, but not for a session of all originals nor with an ensemble that wasn’t convened for the date. New York-based, but with a Seattle background, The Westerlies – trumpeters Riley Mulherkar and Zubin Hensler and trombonists Andy Clausen and Willem de Koch – hooked up a few years ago and give concerts on their own or with guests like Wayne Horvitz. Because of this, the members easily join to create distinctive motifs without much deliberation. The faultless and often changing tempo is provided by young Philadelphia drummer Anwar Marshall.

Overall the majority of tunes judder along with a bouncy, staccato beat, expressing concepts briefly than making way for the next one(s). Often the parameters rage from “Men and Machine”, which is mellow and balladic, allowing space for out-of-tempo exploration from one trombonist alongside harmonized polyphony from the others; to appropriate march tempos added on a piece such as “Percolator”, which varies the strictures with contrapuntal trumpet asides atop a brass choir; or deviates into “Codetta “an Alpine-like exercise in closely harmonized circular breathing. The six’s layered harmonies don’t have to be that formalized either. “Arcade”, for instance is a pseudo-Bebop line where the stuttering tempo doubles midway through; and the obviously self-defined “Swing Landscape” moves from a legato introduction to a bluesy mid-section over a shuffle beat, and with a postlude that achieves Bunny Berrigan-style mellowness, including snorts from one trombonist’s bass register and some spirited trumpeting.

In the main through, there’s a definite lack of sharp angles in the solos or group work, with some passages a little too clean and rounded. Additionally, at times, the unison buoyancy from The Westerlies sounds a little too close to what emanated from the Blood, Sweat & Tears horn section and not enough like what would be produced by the brass section of a big band.

Still The Westerlies is a young band and Little Giant Still Life is a first time experiment. The disc is a boon for brass fanciers, and if Douglas thoughtful compositions expand into other areas involving this configuration who knows what may result?

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Champion 2. Arcade 3. Men and Machine 4. Little Giant Still Life 5. Percolator 6. Your Spacial Day 7. Bunting 8. Swing Landscape 9. The Front Page 10. Colonial Cubism 11. Codetta 12. Worlds Beyond the Sky.

Personnel: Dave Douglas (trumpet); The Westerlies: Riley Mulherkar and Zubin Hensler (trumpet); Andy Clausen and Willem de Koch (trombone) and Anwar Marshall (drums)