Scott Morrow is ALARM’s music editor. Patrick Hajduch is a very important lawyer. Each week they debate the merits of a different album.
Dave Douglas: Orange Afternoons (Greenleaf, 8/30/11)
Dave Douglas: “Solato”[audio:http://alarm-magazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/Dave_Douglas_Solato.mp3|titles=Dave Douglas: “Solato”]
Morrow: Without room to properly bill it in our title, Orange Afternoons is the new installment of the Greenleaf Portable Series, a return to the informal jazz sessions of yore. Though all of the compositions are credited to all-star trumpeter Dave Douglas, it features a similarly famous/standout cast, including saxophonist Ravi Coltrane, pianist Vijay Iyer, bassist Linda Oh, and drummer Marcus Gilmore. It’s a traditional but engaging display of jazz melody and dexterity.
Hajduch: The thing that really made my ears perk up to this project was the inclusion of Iyer. His 2009 album, Historicity, is nervy and pointed but very focused. Reined in by the calmer, more melodic compositions of Douglas (whose recent Spark of Being series with Keystone hews closer to the plaintive tonal work of later electric Miles Davis), Iyer’s work nails these compositions down with percussive chording.
That’s a lot of busy words to describe a fairly straightforward sound. Opener “The Gulf” steadily modulates and mutates its way through a chord progression that is hard to nail down. The horns stick together mostly, navigating together as a duet. “Valori Bollati” trades this busy progression for silence, framing a series of solos with an extremely sparse drums-and-bass arrangement. Iyer’s solo in particular feels like misdirection, at one point walking into the lower register only to stop there, as if stuck.
Morrow: “Valori Bollati” works because after all the soloing, it slows for a much calmer mood, something more befitting the title of the album. Iyer’s outro “solo” also is a nice touch. The title track also serves this dual nature, as Douglas, Coltrane, and Iyer take turns leading the rhythm section in a warm romp.
The album ultimately serves its purpose — a quick session, recorded in one day, that comes together with dynamite players — but for me, it falls short of being memorable. For a set of players who, in the past, have written great melodies and pushed the boundaries of traditional jazz, Orange Afternoons feels a bit aimless.
Hajduch: “Aimless” might be a bit harsh. The songs do wander quite a bit, but the recording is immaculate and the performances are spot-on. The compositions are interestingly complex and fun to follow. Released as a low-price digital-only download, I think that the Greenleaf Portable Series has found an ideal format for less formal sessions like this.
Morrow: I like the idea for the series as well, and Orange Afternoons is much, much more than simply five musicians hitting “record” and throwing down random free-jazz improv. The pieces and players work together very well, but I’m such a fan of some of the members’ catalogs that maybe my standards are a little higher. I would never discourage someone from picking this up!