Two years after their debut, The Infinite, Dave Douglas
returns with guest guitarist Bill Frisell on Strange
. Whereas the first CD blended pop songs and
originals, Strange Liberation consists entirely of
Douglas-penned tunes. The playing is far more complex, augmenting
Douglas’ affinity for odd time signatures and multifarious
formal constructions, and the soloists are much more at home with
the ensemble. In the two years since last hearing them, the quintet
has grown up.

Janna Hutz

A lot of this has to do with the addition of Frisell. Douglas, a
longtime admirer of Frisell, wrote with him in mind. There’s
plenty of room for Frisell’s sonic experiments, but at the
same time Douglas’ charts come across as very controlled.
This interplay of freedom and limitation sows the threads that make
this group and album work.

On the opener, “A Single Sky,” the energy of drummer
Clarence Penn and bassist James Genus is immediately apparent.
Genus’ crisp pedal tones and Penn’s liberating grooves
lay the groundwork for the band. No time is wasted before Frisell
and Rhodes keyboardist Uri Caine welcome a series of free-sounding
chords to the mix. Once the foundation is laid, the CD flows from
start to finish.

Some of the tunes lend themselves as solo vehicles; others are
purely soundscapes. “Mountains from the Train”
showcases Frisell’s free-flowing harmonics, complemented by
an aroma of Caine’s light textures and the melancholy horns.
“Just Say This” highlights Douglas’ gorgeously
understated muted trumpet.

One of the most fulfilling moments on the CD is saxophonist
Chris Potter’s superb solo on “17.” The
rhythmically complex journey through fast dark grooves,
medium-tempo swing, stomp time and unpredictable vamps seems
effortless in Potter’s hands. Potter is easily one of the
most exciting players on the current jazz scene.

The title track, inspired by the words of Martin Luther King
Jr., aptly fits the album. While starting with distinct harmony and
clear melodic intent, the tune quickly opens to vamped solos backed
by intricate horn lines and odd time changes. Strange
, like the title track, is a well-stated essay on
confined freedom. This album’s a welcome addition to
Douglas’ accomplished catalogue, and easily stands as one of
the best jazz albums in recent memory.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

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