1 January 2022

Jazz Essentials: Dave Douglas – Charms of the Night Sky

Dave Douglas

Charms of the Night Sky

(Winter & Winter)

New Jersey-born trumpeter Dave Douglas is a hard man to pin down, a prolific and protean musician whose output varies wildly according to who he is playing with. This is a man, after all, who dared to record a new version of Coltrane’s challenging Ascension with the Rova Saxophone quartet and extras in 1995, has played with John Zorn and numerous other leftfield performers, yet respects Jimmy Guiffre’s The Train and the River immensely, and was bold enough in 2013 to set out to perform in each of the 50 states of the USA. Nothing really defines Douglas expect his exceptional versatility, and his impeccable musical ear.

So my choice of a Douglas recording is, while obviously not typical of his work, certainly an outstanding example of him at his best.  In 1997 he formed a quartet featuring Guy Klucevsek on accordion, Mark Feldman on violin, and Greg Cohen on bass – note the absence of drums – to incorporate the often plaintive and contemplative sounds of Argentinian and Eastern European folk music with jazz influences. The group, and the debut set, were known as Charms of the Night Sky, a suitable name for such an aesthetically graceful outfit.

The album works best because of the contrast between the clean, elegiac trumpet lines of Douglas set against the arthritic accordion of Klucevsek and the tentative violin lines of Feldman, Cohen keeping a gentle pulse throughout. It is all delightfully unhurried – although jovially picking up pace occasionally – and in places quite melancholic, but there is also a timeless element to it. The tunes are all Douglas’s, except the three linked Mugshots by Klucevsek, and Herbie Hancock’s Little One, which fits in perfectly.

Difficult to categorise this set, which makes it all the more listenable, and all the more essential.                                                                 

Simon Adams

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