I've got to admit, I'm a little puzzled by the direction Dave Douglas has been moving in lately. I originally got into his playing through John Zorn's Masada, and his own highly original groups Tiny Bell Trio and Charms Of The Night Sky. It is noteworthy that in the liner notes to the 2000 album 'A Thousand Evenings' by the latter band Douglas wrote about the futility of reliving Miles classics such as 'Birth Of The Cool', 'Kind Of Blue' and 'Filles de Kilimanjaro'.
And yet here, just a few years later we see him very much in Miles mode, in not just this album but also the previous two ('Freak In' and 'The Infinite'). Now of course there's no denying that this album is good, the tunes are good, the players are all amazing, but it's just so *safe*. We know these guys can play the hell out of bop tunes - that's why we've been so thrilled to hear Douglas mixing it up with Balkan rhythms, or accordion and violin, or pianist Uri Caine arranging music by Mahler and Bach.
So anyway, on to special guest Bill Frisell... the prospect of these guys (two of my favourite musicians) making an album together a few years ago would have been one of the most exciting things imaginable. Now, they seem to be settling down, making pretty pleasant music without the danger we once knew from them. Like I said before, the playing is still great and all, but just a bit predictable, not a lot of sparks there.
It's not all *that* predictable though - for example they try out a 50s rock thing, which for my money doesn't really work. Apart from the awful name ('Rock Of Billy') it also just puts the vibe of the album out of whack for six minutes. The piece that follows, however, 'The Frisell Dream', is fantastic, one of my favourite Dave Douglas compositions in a long while. It is a little bit cluttered though, and I have to wonder, on this track as well as others, whether the six-piece band is so necessary (despite the players' obvious talents).