For Record Store Day: Dave Douglas, Dark Territory

First things first. Yes, Dave Douglas named his new album, Dark Territory, after my new book of the same title. This may seem odd: my book is about the history of cyber war; Douglas' album is a deep-dive exploration of improvisation, composition, and technology in the risky corners of jazz and electronica. But in an email sent out by his self-owned label, Greenleaf Music, he explains that both works are about "similarly mysterious murky waters of underground activity" and that he found my title fitting because, like the characters in my book, he and his band are "playing through a similar territory without rules where the dangers and challenges of technology are much greater than normal."

I should add that Douglas did this on his own; we have no joint PR campaign; I am not sharing in any of his royalties, nor he in mine. That said, Dark Territory is a terrific album—dark, moody, virtuosic in a manner both combustible and streamlined.

The album features one of his fairly new bands, High Risk, which consists of Douglas on trumpet, Jonathan Maron on electric and synth basses, Mark Guiliana on acoustic and electric drums, and Shigeto on electronics. Yet the music is much more than curvy solos against outer-space sounds and a groovy backbeat (which some albums of this sort boil down to). It's melodic, it's sometimes a bit breathtaking, it takes you places.

This is the band's second album. The first, which came out last year under the eponymous title High Risk, traipsed through various corridors of possibility that the ensemble posed, from Vangelis to borderline-metal. Dark Territory seems more sure-footed and focused: more solid rock, more swaying swing. I thought this might reflect an evolution in the band, but, looking at the liner notes, I see that both albums were recorded on the same day, October 10, 2014. So the likelier explanation is that Douglas, as producer, went with a variety of approaches on the debut album, trying out a variety of masks—then settled on a firm (but still malleable) identity with the second. It may also be that I'm projecting. In any case, Dark Territory is in no way a scramble of outtakes from High Risk. In fact, I think it's the better album.

It's out on LP now, in stores all over, as part of the April 16 Record Sale Day. It is also available on Greenleaf Music's website, and it will also be out on CD soon.

Like the first album, it was recorded by Geoff Countryman at The Bunker in Brooklyn and mastered by Mark Wilder at Battery Studios in Manhattan—both of them masters, at the top of their game. The LP's sound quality is superb: in-your-face dynamic, Dark Side of the Moon<-ish spacey, but also in-the-room natural.

crenca's picture

Since Dark Territory is only available today, I downloaded it this morning. I have High Risk's first album (and some of Dave's earlier electronica/jazz fusion albums like "Spark of Being") and I think I like the first High Risk album better. Not by a country mile or anything however, and I enjoy both.

Allen Fant's picture

Great review- as always FK.