Jazz: Dave Douglas Quartet - Custard Factory, Birmingham

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The Independent Culture
Great as it is, the great tradition can be a ball and chain for younger artists, especially in jazz where modernism started late but caught up fast. The experiments in the clubs of New York between 1945 and 1965 are the equivalent of several generations in French painting, from the cubism of bebop, say, to the Art Brut of free jazz, and they represent a heroic period of sustained invention that we still haven't come to terms with. What, then, remains to be said when so much has been said before, and so eloquently?

The trumpeter and composer Dave Douglas has an answer of sorts. As part of a contemporary New York avant-garde, he plays Webern and Stravinsky alongside Duke Ellington, and his jazz sextet uses the examples of earlier jazz composers as the basis for startlingly new works which, however radical their conception, remain deep in the pocket of the great tradition. Their album In Our Lifetime (New World / Countercurrents) from 1995, was dedicated to the Memphis-born trumpeter Booker Little, and it mixed Little's own compositions with Douglas originals that paid homage to his style. It's one of the best albums of the decade so far and it provided the repertoire for this short British tour, whose final date had the Canadian trumpeter Kenny Wheeler joining the sextet for the second set.

It was a glorious performance, both with Wheeler and without. In the main, Douglas's music is unapologetically written rather than improvised, full of deep, recessive structures and dense, parallel themes, but it is played with the risk and immediacy of spontaneous composition by his superb group. The ensemble passages are unerringly precise while the members of the band are given free-rein to express themselves in short, sharp solos, and Douglas's own trumpet playing is masterful but never flashy, favouring a stoically melancholy mid-range. A preview of a number from the band's next album, which re-interprets the music of Wayne Shorter, exemplified the virtues of their method; drummer Ben Perowsky eased into a rhythm familiar from Tony Williams's work with Miles Davis, while Douglas quoted obliquely from the Shorter compositions on "Filles De Kilimanjaro". A whole jazz era was summoned up in a few careful phrases. In the second set, the addition of Kenny Wheeler provided an extra edge for the programme of Booker Little themes and variations. Wheeler's tone on flugelhorn manages to create a signature-sound of almost unbearable poignancy. It was a stormer of a gig, validating equally the great tradition and the continued shock of the new.