Previous incarnations of the quintent have provided the platform from which Dave Douglas has produced some of the most potent jazz in the 21st Century. "Live at the Jazz Standard" very much set the benchmark by which the remainder of his albums should be judged. listening to this effort for the first time was therefore something of a shock. Probably the most personal album a jazz musician has cut since Billy Bang's "Vietnam: the aftermath," this is a selection of hymns and folk songs dedicated to his late mother. The simplicity of the tunes and the ordinary chord changes have perhaps put other musicians off exploring this repertoire however the arrangements work extremely well to ensure the integrity of the music is retained as the music is re-cast into jazz. I think that the balance works - neither style of music is compromised and the choice of Aoife O'Donovan as vocalist on most of these tracks seems inspired. Unlike the other reviewer, I feel her singing is very much removed from jazz and sometimes her simple, pure approach clashes with the more sophisticated harmonies played by the instrumentalists. It took me several listens to get used to her. (I was reminded of Gillian Welch in many respects yet O' Donovan's voice is a lot lighter and purer.) For me, it is the fact that neither the jazz nor traditonal song element of these perfromances yield to the other which gets the record it's strnegth and originality.
This is one of those albums which gets better with each listen. I don't think this quintet is quite as adventurous as the previous incarnation although the three instrumental tracks do push the music quite a distance from the more folky numbers with the singer. Douglas is as imperious as ever and whilst Irabagon and Mitchell are no slouches, I feel this record is very much a vehicle for the trumpet, voice and the writing talent of the leader. Only the hill-billy hoe-down of "High on a mountain" seems out of place on a reflective and slightly melancholy record with "Barbara Allen," "Be still my soul" and "Wither must I wonder" standing out. "Middle March" is more in keeping with Douglas' typical work.
I think this is an album that gets better with each listen. Folk tunes are usually a turn off for me but Douglas has turned up trumps on this album. If you like, "Be still" does for hymns what Miles' "Sketches of Spain" did for Spanish music. Not your typical jazz album and a record which may even appeal to some adventurous, non-jazz fans, this is record can only be applauded.