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Dave Douglas & Uri Caine - 'Present Joys'

Alex Marianyi
Staff Writer
alex.marianyi[at] / @alexmarianyi

As per usual, Dave Douglas created an album that only he at only this point in his career could have made. All the killer Dave Douglas things are there: the excellent song choices that play to the strengths of the musicians, the soft but by no means weak tone, and the intelligence. I felt smarter after listening to Present Joys. Along with pianist Uri Caine, Douglas' approach on this record sounds like Nas on Illmatic or the Grateful Dead at their live shows. He opens a channel into the middle of his musicianship and just lets it all flow out without anything superfluous or presumptuous.

With the spare instrumentation, having a great deal of variety can be a challenge. Douglas and Caine handle this masterfully throughout with "Seven Seas", "End To End", and "Zero Hour" being the best examples. Interestingly, Douglas never once puts in a mute, takes up a flugelhorn, or so much as puts his hand in the end of his trumpet, which requires him to spin all that variety from his own sound and mind. "Soar Away" displays variety in a different way that I'm quite partial to; a statement of a classical melody followed immediately by a jazz reinterpretation of it.

Of course, Uri Caine goes a long way towards creating variety, as well. He's virtuosic without being flashy and provides the nourishment Douglas' ideas need to continue to grow. The range of volume he elicits from the piano on the title track while still holding the established groove shows his connection to both instrument and bandmate. Douglas and Caine do right to shed the old jazz axiom of one instrument soloing while the other supports and vice versa. Instead, they both seem to constantly fluctuate between soloing and supporting. The lines get blurred. The definitions get messy. It's fun.

Being just trumpet and piano, this album can at times feel very vulnerable; however, for every vulnerability exposed, there's a section that fills the sonic space and pushes into an energy filled outburst. The obvious connection between these two musicians, they've played together in larger groups for years, and the music that they're playing make Present Joys something intensely unique yet still quite relatable.

Present Joys is out July 22 on Greenleaf Music.

Alex Marianyi does weird music stuff sitting in his living room. You can follow him on Twitter, and he won't even file a restraining order.