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A gift for teaming talent

After an emotionally cool start, trumpeter Dave Douglas and his expertly assembled quintet catch fire.

April 22, 2006|Don Heckman | Special to The Times

Give Dave Douglas credit for putting together good bands. His quintet, which opened a four-night run at the Jazz Bakery on Thursday, is one of the innovative trumpeter's numerous ensembles, each instrumented differently, each focused upon a differing aspect of his musical interests. And it is one of his best.

Which is not surprising, given the lineup, which included a virtual all-star assemblage of pianist Uri Caine (here playing the Fender Rhodes electric piano), tenor saxophonist Donny McCaslin, bassist James Genus and drummer Clarence Penn. Their collaborative interaction -- contrasted with impressive soloing, especially from McCaslin -- was the highlight of the evening, and yet another intriguing entry in Douglas' long string of musical adventures.

That said, however, it took a while before the set began to rise to its potential level of achievement. And it needed a stunning improvisational excursion from McCaslin on "Blues to Steve Lacy" to make it happen. Although his playing always bristles with virile articulation, McCaslin's extraordinary virtuosity can sometimes overpower his improvisational inventiveness. In this solo, however, McCaslin found the right combination, placing his fast fingers at the service of a gripping melodic flow and a driving sense of swing.

Caine seemed to come alive around the same time. For the first few pieces, it wasn't really clear why he was using the Fender Rhodes, since most of what he played, with its roiling tone clusters, sounded more appropriate for his primary instrument, the acoustic grand piano. But once he dug into the Fender Rhodes' clattery low notes and emphasized its classic funk textures, the music -- with considerable aid from Douglas' idiosyncratic trumpet lines and the simmering drive of Genus and Penn -- became energized with brisk, propulsive rhythms.

And that was a considerable change from the set's opening, which featured several emotionally cool Douglas pieces -- "Invocation" and "Song for Suzannah" from his new album "Meaning and Mystery," and an older work, "Argo."

As with the soloing, the compositional aspects of the program required a shift of gears to get up to speed: an untitled tune that somehow managed to transition from something resembling the Original Dixieland Jazz Band's "Livery Stable Blues" to the angular sounds of Thelonious Monk.


Dave Douglas Quintet

Where: The Jazz Bakery, 3233 Helms Ave., Los Angeles

When: 8 and 9:30 tonight and Sunday

Price: $30

Contact: (310) 271-9039

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