Bill Laswell / Ian Chang / Mary Halvorson / Joe Lovano / Julian Lage / Dave Douglas

March 16, 2019


Greenleaf Music GRE-CD-1068

Agit-prop in intention but not in sound, Uplift collects 12 compositions trumpeter Dave Douglas recorded and released during 2018 to draw attention to entities working for positive social change in an increasingly dysfunctional United States. With the politics reflected in titles rather than lyrics, the trumpeter organized an all-star ensemble alongside him to amplify these statements. They are Joe Lovano playing saxophones, clarinet and flute; guitarists Mary Halvorson and Julian Lage; bassist Bill Laswell and Ian Chang on drums and electronics.

Another musical pivot from the mercurial Douglas, the presence of producer and avant-rocker Laswell, electric guitars and electronics gives the tracks a not unpleasant more jagged sound that the trumpeter’s usual Freebop interface. Still, Halvorson’s and Lage’s finger-style finesse prevents ponderousness, bringing weight to bear via ideas not presentation. Furthermore, all the way to the final reflective “Truth Is Truth” which serves as a sonic summation, the six players cycle through a compendium of styles to make their points? For instance “Trail of Dreams” is an earnest ballad whose focus is the harmonies produced by contrasting Douglas’ multi-tinctured plunger notes and Lovano’s coloratura fills from soprano saxophone. Elsewhere, clanking guitar comping backs heartfelt tenor saxophone blowing on “Every Town” with that exposition soon doubled by moderated brass tones, and a climax of atmospheric intensify, related to electro-tinged pulsations.

Brisker and more robust tracks conspicuously reflect the same outreach however. With “Truly the Sun” evolving in March tempo and “Sharing a Small Planet” rocking out with ferocious beats, the simmering anger that can only be tempered by hope and/or change is fittingly reflected. On the first tune it’s Douglas’ Harmon-muted tones that suggest moderation while at the same time constructing power prods like 1970s Electric Miles, in order to counter wailing electronic processes, percussive ruffs from Chang and heavily rhythmic slurred fingering from the guitarists. This keeps the sequence chromatic while simmering with the thwarted power of a protest march. In the same way “Sharing a Small Planet” has a rollicking Blue sensibility, pushed along by an unrelenting drum beat, trumpet shakes and reed split tones. Yet there’s also enough didactic and hopeful forward motion expressed by the group to justify the title.

As progressive in its presentation as its politics, Uplift’s uplift comes both from its sensibly suggested humanism as from the vigor with which the sextet tackles these outstanding and out-of-left-field Douglas compositions.

–Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. The Power Of The Vote 2. Lift All Boats 3. Every Town 4. Truly the Sun 5. Love Is A Battle 6. Trail of Dreams 7. A Tree Planted by the Rivers of Water 8. Sharing a Small Planet 9. Shine Like the Dawn 10. Fear No Love 11. The Garden 12. Truth Is Truth

Personnel: Dave Douglas (trumpet); Joe Lovano (tenor and mezzo soprano saxophones, alto clarinet and alto flute); Mary Halvorson and Julian Lage (guitar): Bill Laswell (bass) and Ian Chang (drums and electronics)