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CD & DVD Review: Dave Douglas – Keystone

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Dave Douglas: Keystone [CD & DVD] — Trumpeter Dave Douglas is one of the hardest working men in the jazz business, so it should come as no surprise that he’s added a new record label, Greenleaf Music, to his long list of projects… and it’s easy to understand why. The major record labels (there are basically two of them now, right?) really have nothing to offer ambitious, innovative musicians anymore — no wonder so many others are starting their own labels too (including John Zorn, Philip Glass, Michael Torke, John Eliot Gardiner, and the London Symphony Orchestra, to name just a few…)

Keystone is Dave Douglas’ audiovisual tribute to the notorious yet somewhat neglected and under appreciated comedic silent film star Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle. This album presents eleven of Douglas’ original Arbuckle “movie scores” (along with the actual films on the DVD) performed by Douglas on trumpet, Jamie Saft on wurlitzer electric piano, drummer Gene Lake, saxophonist Marcus Strickland, Brad Jones on bass, and the apparent go-to guy for avant-jazz turntables, DJ Olive.

Douglas and this band are in a funky, chunky, fusiony, almost grungy mode with tunes that are punchy, dry, and muscular — no wistful Charms of the Night Sky melodies here. There’s plenty of fuzzy, nearly distorted Wurlitzer in the texture at times, and DJ Olive weaves weird electronic noisescapes and processing effects under the surface throughout. Gene Lake’s drumming is especially aggressive, propulsive, and prominent in the mix — and yes, it kicks ass.

In fact, Keystone is probably the most successful and enjoyable jazz/rock/electronic fusion album I’ve heard in a long time (and it seems like there have been plenty of them lately.) Sure, I like Uri Caine’s Bedrock, The Bad Plus, and Cinematic Orchestra just fine too, but Douglas’ Keystone band is just more exciting and, well, fun. Yes, sometimes the soprano sax soloing goes on a bit too long, and occasionally DJ Olive’s contributions are more annoying than interesting, but usually everyone in the band is doing something to contribute to the music and it all comes together remarkably well — and, unlike so many neo-jazz fusion groups, it sounds like they’re actually enjoying themselves.

The DVD included with Keystone is really an essential element of this whole project (unlike most throwaway “bonus DVDs” these days.) I had never seen a Fatty Arbuckle movie before watching this, and I was completely amazed at how bizarre and entertaining a 1916 silent film could actually be and how well Douglas’ new music complemented the action on screen. The DVD contains the 34 minute Fatty & Mabel Adrift, an epic tale of love, jealousy, and real estate; and the five minute Just Another Murder “music video” (I guess Dave wants his MTV) which is a wild slapstick collage of scenes from Fatty’s Tintype Tangle featuring all kinds of life-threatening situations. It’s all fascinating, strange, and even sort of funny now and then.

In short, Keystone (both the CD and the DVD) is a rousing success, and gets Dave Douglas’ new Greenleaf Music label off to a winning start. Encore!

[from serenade in green]

serenade in green

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