Battle of the Dave Douglas Freak In reviews! Fellow Blogcritic Mark Saleski's review of this album earlier today has prompted me to complete my seemingly-never-ending-review.
I have had Freak In since it came out mid-February, have listened to it a few dozen times since then, and I still find I am no closer to being able to put words to my feelings for this album. Instead, I find myself forcing words upon it, all of which are rendered meaningless because they really don't describe this album, only things that have come before it. It would be simple to rattle off a list of names anyone mildly familiar with jazz could - Miles Davis, John McLaughlin, Ornette Coleman immediately spring to mind - but that would be to belittle the effort that created Freak In. There are moments that recall all of the above, and many more moments where it is obvious that Douglas is not comfortable simply standing on the shoulders of the giants before him - so he jumps from them instead.
Douglas' calling cards are all in evidence here: the bright tone, stately lines, and the laid-back style. Those hoping to hear Douglas' vaguely middle-eastern tinged sound - the sound his participation in Masada accentuates to great effect - will not be disappointed. What sells Freak In is that Douglas is able to maintain control of a group whose direction could so easily be swayed by any one of the number of powerful players present, but without any evidence that he was forced to reign in any of his cohorts. The result is a cohesive group effort under the approving eye of a natural leader that leaves plenty of breathing room and checks the egos at the door. It's certainly not for everyone - it's grasp of contemporary instrumentation and studio manipulation, not to mention the jam-band feel to certain tracks, will alienate fans of "traditional" jazz who have a hard time hearing this type of music as jazz. Those looking for a performance like Douglas' The Infinite should look elsewhere - other than Douglas himself, the two albums share no similarities. I do, however, find some similarity to another of Douglas' albums, Sanctuary, an adventurous two-disc free-form abstraction of fringe music styles. On that release, drums interact with sampler-wielding electronics gurus, while horns bounce off the dueling basses, which not only hold down the low end but frequently provide their own unearthly sounds in sympathy with the samplers. Sanctuary treads similar ground to Freak In, but the latter builds the source material into more song-like results.