Dave Douglas, Be Still
Dave Douglas' Be Still (on the trumpeter's own Greenleaf Music label) is his most sheer-gorgeous album since the 1998 Charms of the Night Sky and one of the best-sounding new recordings that I've heard by anybody in quite a while. And it's available on LP as well as CD (more about which, later).
It marks a new (perhaps one-time) direction for Douglas, sporting a new (I hope longer-lasting) quintet, with the added novelty (I'm pretty sure it's a first in his 20 years as a leader) of a vocalist, the folklorist Aoife O'Donovan, who sings with a strong, breezy freshness.
It's an album of hymns. Shortly before Douglas' mother died, she wrote out a list of church songs and asked him to record themand here they are, along with a few Douglas originals struck in the same vein. The results are lovely, stirring, a few shiveringly so. They're backed by Douglas' by-now-familiar (but not-remotely-tiresome) plangent tone and minor-key melancholy, with harmonies (shared with tenor saxophonist Jon Irbagon) reminiscent of "Abide with Me" from Monk's Music (taken to the next level), restless rhythms from drummer Rudy Roylston, and always-surprising (and surprisingly right) anchor lines by the new bass wonder Linda Oh.
The session was recorded, live-to-2-track on 24/96 ProTools, by Joe Ferla, one of the best around, who's laid down much of Douglas' work over the years (including Charms of the Night Sky). Unlike some of the great engineers, Ferla isolates the musicians and puts several microphones around thema tube Neumann u67 on the singer, a pair of Beyers on the piano, a Coles ribbon mike on the center of the drum kitthough keeping most of them at low levels, balancing them just-so, with almost no EQ on the board.
The LP was mastered by Mark Wilder from the 24/96 files (as was the CD) and cut on 180gm vinyl, via Direct Metal Mastering, at Pirate's Press in San Francisco (though my colleague Michael Fremer says Pirate's Press is a forwarding house and that the work was probably done by GZ in the Czech Republic, which also did the Decca/Abkco Stones box). The vinyl pressing is very quiet and slightly better than the CD: you hear a bit more of the fingerwork on the bass, there's more air surrounding the horns, a little extra sizzle on the drums. But in either medium, this is a splendid album in every way.