For the past three decades, trumpeter and composer Dave Douglas has developed a singular voice through a multitude of far-ranging styles.
His more than 40 albums are as varied as the fiercely melodic “Radical Jewish Music” of John Zorn’s Masada, heartfelt covers of pop stars Beck and Bjork, horn supergroup Brass Ecstasy and multiple all-star quartet and quintet lineups. (“Be Still [Greenleaf],” an album of his late mother’s favorite hymns, was a Style pick for best album of 2012.)
To put it simply, booking the Dave Douglas Quintet is a major coup for the Broadberry. And you should go.
In some ways Douglas’ ever-changing work is akin to Miles Davis’. But where Davis had a skin-shedding trajectory from cool to hard bop to modal to electric, Douglas’ development is independent of definable stages.
“I’m not interested in any genre of music,” Douglas says. “I’m interested in the immediacy and humanity of each moment, and how we share that with musicians and listeners. … Whatever freedoms we do have as musicians are transmuted through the means we choose. And I find that listening widely keeps me aware and on my toes to new directions to explore.”
Whatever the setting, whether playing Balkan melodies or intense, electronica-soaked improvisations, Douglas’ sound is a unifying constant. Part of this could be attributed to his long-term relationship with his instrument.
“I have played the same horn for many, many years,” Douglas says. “In 2006 I switched to cornet for about six months … until one day I realized that the cornet could not achieve all the sounds I needed to produce in the music I was performing. So I went back to my old trumpet. I am a one-horn guy, always wanted to be. It’s not the instrument, it’s the person.”
And the untold hours of dedication. Douglas views the concept of finding your own voice as at once a well-worn cliché and the crux of the matter. “I feel like the players I admire came to that voice through years of experience and years of working with their own limitations and predilections,” he says.
Ultimately, it all comes together in the context of performance. Through the years, Douglas has assembled a wide variety of first-rate groups. The current Quintet — saxophonist Jon Irabagon, pianist Matt Mitchell, bassist Linda Oh, and drummer Rudy Royston — easily is one of the best on the scene. It’s a working band. Together for years, its members have fluid, intuitive freedom that comes from familiarity with the music and each other.
“You can’t keep a great band forever,” Douglas says. “I’m hyper-aware of how each of these musicians is a composer and bandleader in their own right, and this band will explode at the seams within a few years. So we play as hard as we can while we have it.”
“It’s a dream team,” he says. “A rare occasion, and I am proud to present it in Richmond, a city for which I have a special fondness.”
Douglas came to Richmond for a residency in 2010. He returned in 2013 for a transcendent Sunday-afternoon concert with an arrangement for three trumpets. (The other two horns were Virginia Commonwealth University’s Taylor Barnett and world-traveling virtuoso Rex Richardson.) He’s been a vocal fan of hometown heros No BS Brass, calling it his favorite brass band and inviting the group to his Festival of New Trumpet Music.
“Richmond has a vibe,” Douglas says. “Not every city does. I like the creative energy of the place, and I like the hometown pride. [I’m] looking forward to playing the Broadberry.”
It isn’t often that a musician of Douglas’ caliber plays such an intimate space in Richmond. Style Arts and Culture Editor Brent Baldwin says the last time he saw Douglas was 17 years ago at a small bar in San Francisco’s Mission District.
“Greg Cohen was playing bass and I was there with his brother, Danny,” he recalls. “It was an intimate crowd, everyone had their eyes closed to focus on the music. That included Tom Waits and his wife Kathleen at the bar.”
The local show promises to be one of the high points of the year.
Seriously, you should go. S
Dave Douglas Quintet plays the Broadberry on Tuesday, Nov. 17, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15 for students, $20 for general admission in advance and $23 on the day of the show. Admission to a master class and the show is $50.