Dave Douglas’ High Risk at the Montreal International Jazz Festival

Prolific trumpeter and composer Dave Douglas was the proud father introducing his brand new baby to Montreal fans at le club l’Astral Tuesday, June 30. His new venture, High Risk, featured Detroit-based electronic musician/producer Shigeto (of Ghostly International) and NYC scene favourites Jonathan Maron and Mark Guiliana on electric bass and drums. The group combined electronic music with jazz improvisation, building on concepts established by Douglas’ “Keystone” sextet and played compositions from their self-titled album, released on June 23.

Douglas’ main objective when assembling this group of young visionaries was to “put everything at risk” and create a situation that forced the musicians to be “in the moment and create with [their] wits from one second to the next”. This statement seemed to hold true on Tuesday as the members of High Risk remained on their toes for the entirety of the set, listening and reacting to one another with cat-like precision. The most striking contrast one notices between this group and others is the presence of an electronica musician where ordinarily there is a pianist or guitarist. Shigeto provided harmonic and melodic accompaniment, however, his primary contributions came in the form of underlying sonic textures and interjected electronica sounds. Occasionally, he would offer a purely rhythmic accompaniment although that role was handled primarily by bass and drums. Maron used a number of analogue synth bass sounds to provide further variety within each sonic landscape and Douglas had him double the melody with trumpet on certain tunes, which effectively underscored those lines. The precision with which the two played together had a particularly captivating effect.

Douglas was charming on the microphone, showing off his french chops and joking with the audience between songs. If there was high risk involved, he didn’t show any signs of tightness and seemed right at home playing with any and all combinations of the various band members. This included a remarkable duo piece with Shigeto that featured Douglas whistling and blowing into the valves of his trumpet like a flute.

The evening concluded with a heartfelt version of “Cardinals”, a Douglas composition dedicated to Michael Brown, composed during the events that took place in Ferguson, Missouri. The song continues to grow in significance for the members of High Risk as there seems to be a new “Ferguson” taking place in the US each week. Douglas took more than a few minutes to convey that “Cardinals” represents the importance of communication between human beings of different cultures in order to “survive on this planet”.

After more than two decades, Douglas continues to be one of the major leaders of the improvised music world. He continues to take musical chances and High Risk is paying off in spades.

The album is available on Greenleaf Music and can be pre-ordered on iTunes.