Dave Douglas' Spark of Being

Those who follow this space know of my enthusiasm for the music of trumpeter Dave Douglas: his plangent tone, his spine-tingling way with minor-chord intervals, his knack for evoking joy, melancholy, romance, and a host of other emotions—sometimes all at once—without dipping so much as a toe into sentimentalism.

Douglas has a half-dozen or so bands going at any one time, each with very different ensembles, and he gears his compositions and projects to the specific traits (or personnel) of each. For instance, the music for his Charms of the Night Sky group (trumpet, violin, bass, and accordion) is not recycled to fit his Brass Quintet. Each group has a different sound—and a different songbook to go with it—though, like Miles Davis with his various bands over the decades, Douglas’ own distinctive sound shines through.

His latest project, Spark of Being (on his own Greenleaf Music label), features his Keystone band (Marcus Strickland, tenor sax; Adam Benjamin, Fender Rhodes; Brad Jones, ampeg bass; Gene Lake, drums; PJ Olive, turntable and laptop). Douglas first formed Keystone to play the score he’d composed for some rediscovered Fatty Arbuckle silent comedies (documented on the 2006 CD/DVD, Keystone).

Their latest album started out as another movie-soundtrack, this for Bill Morrison’s experimental remake of the Frankenstein myth. I haven’t seen the film (except for the trailer, online here), but the music sounds on-target: dark, eerie, and Romantic (in the Byronic sense), with the cosmos rumbling, the earthly elements stirring, and Douglas & Co. blowing, pounding, and strumming as fiercely as I’ve heard in a while—but also in graceful melodies, churning complex harmonies, and very hip rhythms. This is electric fusion as Douglas hasn’t pushed it since his 2003 album Freak In, and Spark of Being integrates the electronic effects more seamlessly.

The sound quality is excellent: vivid and dynamic.

The album is available as a single CD (the soundtrack) or as a three-disc boxed set (Disc 2 is an elaboration of the soundtrack with longer solos, Disc 3 contains themes for scenes cut from the film). Only Disc 2 seems to be available from amazon. Any or all three can be had from Douglas’ website.