Dave Douglas HIGH RISK at Performance Works, 28 June 2015
Dave Douglas’s electro-acoustic quartet HIGH RISK offered a dynamic, edgy and intense set at Performance Works (in Vancouver) yesterday evening. Fusing layered, pulse-driven techno with Douglas’s Freddie-Keppard-meets-Freddie-Hubbard, fiercely clarion trumpet lines, HIGH RISK collectively muster an infectiously celebratory and powerful improvised music that’s as danceable as it is creatively provocative. While Douglas has composed a seven-tune repertoire for this new band – which recorded together for the first time on October 10, 2014, in Brooklyn, a session that resulted in their just-released CD on Douglas’s Greenleaf label – and while each member of the ensemble (Douglas on trumpet, Jonathan Maron on electric bass, Mark Guiliana on drums and Shigeto on electronics) contributes heavily to the collaboration, for me the group concept seems to rest on the innovative, wonderfully fractured loops, samples and laptop conjurations of Shigeto, who bopped, leapt and shimmied with joyful abandon behind a tabletop covered in rheostat boxes and circuitry. The sound palette and rhythmic patter he managed to conjure never obscured its synthetic origins but managed amid the electronica to engender a vibrantly zoetic feel: amazing, richly affective sonorities. At one point, he played in duo with Douglas and the intricate immediacy of his approach became apparent, as he built vibrant whorls and cascades of joyful noise. Mark Guiliana’s drumming is brilliantly propulsive, deep in the pocket yet consistently pushing forward; his multidirectional, quickly syncopated incisions through a four-on-the-floor backbeat were nothing short of genius. Jonathan Maron seemed to remain calm and steady throughout the concert, but his bass-lines – by turns warmly lyrical and darkly palpitating – kept the band centred and present. Early in their set, I thought I heard echoes of the bluesy melody of Miles Davis’s “Jean Pierre,” and Douglas definitely quoted the four-note tag from the Miles Davis-John Scofield line “That’s What Happened”: in some ways, HIGH RISK makes a music that might have emerged from Davis’s more progressive or edgy moments in his later years. But this is a music that’s of its own present tense. Some of the most powerful and moving moments came during the last tune, “Cardinals,” an elegiac homage Douglas dedicated to the memory of Michael Brown. “This is a music that’s about love,” he told the audience. Love names the high risk this music wants to take. In the brief liner notes to the CD, Douglas writes that “improvisation transcends barriers between people and genres. Improvisation models the way the world can work.” My colleagues and I in ICASP and IICSI have been thinking, and trying to produce various forms of practice-based research, along these exact lines. The improvised music of HIGH RISK offers one instance of a hugely successful, motivated and engaged co-creativity, laying the contingent and extemporaneous groundwork for a viable human community yet to come.