Dave Douglas

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Trumpeter Dave Douglas’ latest work Blue Latitudes is based on a book about Captain Cook’s pioneering expeditionary voyages in the eighteenth century. He is joined by bassist Mark Dresser, percussionist Susie Ibarra and the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group with the classical musicians charged by Douglas to partly improvise. Alyn Shipton catches up with Douglas, now releasing music under his own label, as he rehearses for the performances due this month Dave DouglasThe stocky, pugnacious figure of Dave Douglas has never been one to shrink from a musical challenge. His catalogue is an essay in musical diversity, with a myriad influences and explorations surfacing in everything from the shape and size of his ensembles to the instrumentation he uses. With a background that included stints with Horace Silver, and projects dedicated to Booker Little and Mary Lou Williams, he’s got one foot in the jazz tradition, but he has equally enthusiastically embraced electronics, Balkan themes and string instruments. As a result, he’s no stranger to controversy, having been on the receiving end of Stanley Crouch’s ire in that controversial 2003 Jazz Times essay ‘Putting the White Man In Charge.’ Yet as he embarks on Blue Latitudes, his most ambitious work so far, in terms of scale, Dave has chosen to do so in a way that puts him even more directly in the public eye than usual, holding open rehearsals of his work-in-progress with the combined forces of Birmingham Contemporary Music Group and his own trio, in which he is joined by bassist Mark Dresser and percussionist Susie Ibarra. We meet at the end of these open sessions, as Dave is preparing to fly home to New York, prior to his return here for the full-scale premiere and a UK tour of the work. "It’s great to do this, because I’m asking these classically trained players to improvise a little bit," he says. "Not a whole lot, but within certain parameters they genuinely are improvising and interacting with the soloists. It’s an unusual thing to ask them to do, and I feel that without this little rehearsal period in advance of the full performances in April, it could have been more of a shock for them. Also, for me, I’m experimenting with a compositional language that’s trying to integrate contemporary classical music with jazz and improvised music. That’s not an easy thing to do, either, given that the majority of my writing experience has been for small improvising ensembles of players whom I know well. So to perform these rehearsals in public was incredibly valuable for me, to gauge the effects of what I was writing, and give myself the chance to revise and make it better before the eventual first performance."