It may not seem kind to refer to a man still in his 40s as an “elder statesman.” But trumpeter Dave Douglas has been setting jazz standards — developing and nurturing younger players who become stars in their own rights — and extending the music’s traditions since the late ’90s. Along the way, he has created a formidable body of work.
GPS Vol 2, Orange Afternoons, with the star power quintet of Ravi Coltrane on tenor, Vijay Iyer on piano, Linda Oh on bass and Marcus Gilmore on drums, ranks among his best efforts. Accessible and richly evocative, the album is structurally sophisticated in a way that conjures up comparisons to Miles Davis’s greatest band (the mid-1960s quintet). In fact, Douglas may be the most successful inheritor of that band’s legacy. That he’s by no means its most literal interpreter makes his understanding of the magical properties of the Davis group all the more impressive.
“The Gulf” starts the album off simply; an attractive theme followed by a stately trumpet solo. There’s a kind of forthrightness in Douglas’s playing — an emotional honesty — that always cuts to the heart of things. Ravi Coltrane follows. Ironically, it would be hard to find a less “Coltrane-influenced” saxophonist; his most obvious inspiration is Wayne Shorter. But Ravi is well on his way to finding his voice, and he’s already a compelling player. Vijay Iyer has established his voice, but “Orange Afternoons” illustrates how he has continued to develop. A pianist who has worked through a disciplined improvisatory system (initially derived in part from Steve Coleman’s M Base exemplar), he now lets his playing flow freely, both as a soloist and accompanist. His highly intuitive comping behind Douglas on the waltz “Valori Bollati” is a case in point: There’s never a moment when he’s not completely responsive to what he’s hearing.
I love the loose way that Oh and Gilmore lock in behind the piano solo on “Solato,” prompting Iyer to his best solo on the album. Coltrane’s solo may likewise his best of the program, a rhythmically flexible, muscular excursion. Regarding rhythmic flexibility, it’s worth checking out the incredible independence of limbs that Marcus Gilmore exhibits pushing the band along on “Orologi.” He makes the impossible sound easy. The dolorous title track, with Douglas again invoking Miles Davis through the use of the Harmon mute, could almost have come from the pen of Charles Mingus, another inspirational bandleader. Oh plays really effective stop/start figures behind the trumpet and tenor solos. She has a wonderful sense of when to push and when to leave the time in limbo. “Frontier Justice” is a nicely off-kilter piece where unison lines alternate with call and response melody. Over the course of the tune, the dynamics expand (Gilmore switches from brushes to sticks), solidify during the piano solo, and then ease off toward conclusion. It’s a quirky, small number that serves to bring down the curtain to yet another substantial addition to Dave Douglas’s ever-growing canon of extraordinary work.