|A collaboration that includes high power names like trumpeter Dave Douglas, clarinetist Louis Sclavis, cellist Peggy Lee, and drummer Dylan van der Schyff is bound to turn heads. While Douglas arguably is the main draw here, this is firmly a collaborative effort, evidenced by the fact that Douglas, Sclavis, and Lee all contribute compositions (some previously played by different ensembles), in addition to one from the foursome. As for the history of this project, though the band had only played together once at the 1998 Vancouver Jazz Festival, after Douglas became the director of the Banff Workshop in Alberta, Canada, he brought the others in to teach and also participate in an afternoon recording session. The results demonstrate that the collective members enjoy one another's company, given the carefree, yet attuned atmosphere.
Before one thinks that this is some sort of improvised free for all, the results display nothing of the sort, as the varied compositional textures attest. Take the opener, Steve Lacy's "Blinks". With its playful theme anchored by the whisk of van der Schyff's brushes and tiptoeing walk from Lee's cello, the front line twists into a rush of flittering colors that decorate the landscape before the friendly theme emerges again. Demonstrating a dedication to contrast, "Bow River Falls" overflows with forlorn emotionalism, with the front line of Douglas' muted trumpet and Sclavis' low-blowing bass clarinet drifting against the drummer's graciously tasteful use of electronics (an unfortunately infrequent happenstance these days) and light cymbalry and beautiful bowed lines from Lee. Sclavis' "Fete Forraine" travels down similarly structured dark paths, featuring sonorous tones from the hornmen before Lee and van der Schyff set the circus-type groove that marches ahead. Again, van der Schyff's tasteful laptop contributions mark the landscape as an eerie looseness reigns on "Window", followed by the vibrant, yet thoughtful front line interjections pulsed by the Lee/van der Schyff team, highlighted by a remarkable Sclavis bass clarinet solo that resolves into group flights of fancy.
Douglas' "Petals" signals the halfway point (if one can call it that) of the record, an urgent vibe driven by Lee's prickly vamp and van der Schyff's floating cymbal work. Douglas takes the lead on Lee's "Retracting 2", with his spherical tone being the focal point, as Lee whisks the tension, with Sclavis and van der Schyff coloring beneath. But "Dernier Regards/Vol" sets a different stage, one that finally spotlights van der Schyff's exceptional percussion technique, sounding quite Lyttonian in spurts, dueling fiercely with Douglas at its inception and then walking the tightrope with the entire quartet later in the piece. Douglas' Balkanized "Woman At Point Zero", having previously been featured on his Witness record, goes right to the "chamber" aspect of this band, with Lee and van der Schyff's gentle rhythms and the horns' intertwining delicacy. Finally, the creepy interactions of the (probably) improvised "Dark Water" shows the group's, well, darker side, while the sun shines on "Paradox", a Douglas composition that ends things with a bang. Not only is a swing theme on tap, but members of the quartet also pair off and, during the piece's most heated moments, Sclavis and van der Schyff light up the room.
This is a marvelous record that is great fun to listen to on many levels—for the compositional range, the brilliant rapport between the musicians, the depth of their musicianship, and of course, the ability to pull off a meeting of this proportion without a hitch. Surely, there must be more on the horizon. ONE FINAL NOTE