Dave Douglas Dizzy Atmosphere: Dizzy Gillespie at Zero Gravity 2/24/18 (by Tom Csatari)

PERSONNEL: Dave Douglas (trumpet), Ambrose Akinmusire (trumpet), Gerald Clayton (piano), Linda May Han Oh (bass), Joey Baron (drums), Bill Frisell (electric guitar)

SET LIST: Almazan (Douglas) Manteca (Gillespie) Pacific (Douglas) Cadillac (Douglas) Con Alma (Gillespie) Pickin’ the Cabbage (Gillespie)

HIGHLIGHTS: Dave wrote some double-trumpet background pads during Linda Oh’s bass solo on his original “Almazan” that were really hip and unexpected.

The trumpeter, composer, bandleader, arranger, educator, and entrepreneur Dave Douglas was commissioned by Jazz at Lincoln Center to write and arrange music inspired by Dizzy Gillespie for a group of all-star musicians for a two-night run at the Appel Room inside the Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle in Manhattan.

The second set of the second night began with an unaccompanied solo from the leader. Douglas started with wide leaps and stretching post-bop acrobatics, foreshadowing a set of intricate, risky, intense and far-ranging music.

Douglas’s own “Almazan” slowly bloomed with atmosphere until all members of the group were collectively improvising over a rubato pulse, reminiscent of Paul Motian or perhaps the pianist Fabian Almazan (who is referenced in the song title). The piece expanded into a 6/4 polyrhythmic groove with bebop-inflected trumpet melodies from the horns. Nothing stayed in one place: diverse rhythmic feels were superimposed over the form for different soloists. Ambrose Akinmusire’s loose-but-linear lyrical atonality was extremely fresh.

The group transitioned into another drone-y improvisation — some sort of Schoenbergian blues aesthetic — which led them into Douglas’s free arrangement of “Manteca.” Joey Baron brought the melody out on his dry cymbals, Douglas took a melody-first approach to his solo, and Gerald Clayton took the rhythm section swinging on his turn at the changes. Sparkly clangs from Bill Frisell’s distorted delay entrails and reverse loops offered a dissipating coda.

“Pacific,” another original inspired by Gillespie, reminded me of Ben Allison’s cinematic-jazz and Chico Hamilton’s crossover experimentations. Again, Douglas used the double-trumpet sound to great effect, beginning with a duel-trumpet herald. Eventually the composition with full band offered a widespread melody from Douglas, juxtaposed against a jagged line from Akinmusire. The latter displayed the woodier tone when taking a fleet-footed solo where he appeared to be floating and pushing at the same time, completely unencumbered by the restrictions of his instrument. Linda Oh was a pillar of stability. Her tone was heavy on the mids, projecting out into the room and dealing out ultramodern dexterity.

“Cadillac” was a Phrygian-tinged vehicle for the guitarist. Frisell made the whole show feel lighter with his iconic surf shred, and hit his stride during “Cadillac”‘s blues vamp. Some interstitial rubato improvisation led the group into a reading of one of Gillespie’s most well-known compositions, “Con Alma” which was played pretty straight and graced with the comparatively rare intro from the first recording. Akinmusire’s solo was had an endless flow of lyrical, shape-based ideas over the form’s shifting harmony. Frisell countered with a starlit beauty which made Akinmusire shake his head with adoration, mouthing “Yeah, man!” at the outset. Linda Oh bounced through the harmony deftly during her solo and Douglas soloed over the outro, driving things home in a bluesy avant-garde manner suggestive of his work with John Zorn’s Masada.

The set ended with Dizzy’s early “Pickin’ The Cabbage,” a stylish minor tune with some nice changes. Clayton took a block chord solo which included punches of atonality; Akinmusire kept it short and to the point; Frisell sounded like a mad scientist on the fretboard. Joey Baron actually played with Gillespie (a little known fact), and he closed the night with a drum shout before the last head out.

There was a lot of soloing, but the group came together at key moments. The project was aptly titled, with Dave Douglas refracting Dizzy Gillepie’s music through a 21st-century lens with a once-in-a-lifetime band.

by Tom Csatari