The most moving music of 2012 for me has surely been the collection Be Still, by trumpeter Dave Douglas. A serene and shimmering marriage between jazz and devotional hymns, Be Still was inspired by the death of Douglas’s mother—and it extinguished any notion that jazz is all cerebellum and no heart.
That this great work should come from Douglas in 2012 is hardly a surprise. Douglas has been a critical voice—and recently a critical mentor to younger players—in jazz for 20 years. And that it should mean that much to me is also not surprise. Douglas and I grew up in the same place and the same time, and—as he reflects the loss of his parents in his music—has many of my own concerns in his heart.
His music is personal. Putting aside Be Still, that may seem odd, as he is mainly a voice in today’s post-modern jazz, a realm of much abstraction not usually given to autobiography or confession. But Douglas’s work is personal because its incredible range and diversity, taken as a whole, is a portrait of a brilliant and complete man.
The last year shows this with perfect clarity. You can forget the broad swath of his work from previous years: his music for silent movie soundtracks, his use of turntables and electronics, his immersion in Balkan music and his album of Joni Mitchell covers. Douglas’s released music in the last 12 months is enough to suggest that he is the most interesting and heartfelt jazz musician in recent times.
Greenleaf Records and “The Portable Series”
Since 2005, Douglas has been releasing his music—and increasingly that of others—on his own label, Greenleaf Music. Not that Douglas had previously seemed constrained in his artistic choices, but now he truly does what he wants when he wants. And so the full breadth of his artistic identity flies free.
At the end of 2011, Greenleaf made available three different records by Douglas reflecting three different angles on his remarkable trumpet voice. Called “The Portable Series”, these recordings were initially available by download only but were eventually pressed onto compact disc by demand. Each one, remarkable. Together, a revelation.
Read the entire column, including review of the latest by Linda Oh and Donny McCaslin at PopMatters at The Many Voices of Trumpeter and Composer Dave Douglas