A Night for Soloists to Take Spotlight

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Trumpeter Dave Douglas leads so many different ensembles--from the Tiny Bell Trio to Parallel Worlds--that it almost takes a scorecard to keep track of what he’s doing. But none of his other enterprises is any better than the group he brought to the Jazz Bakery on Tuesday, which he simply calls the Dave Douglas New Quintet.

It’s a modest title for an ensemble that includes a lineup of some of the most talented young players in the current jazz scene: saxophonist Chris Potter, pianist Uri Caine, bassist James Genus and drummer Clarence Penn. And, although it’s the same group that is present on Douglas’ latest CD, “Infinite,” the live performance at the Bakery was superior in almost every way to the recorded effort.

The New Quintet has been described as Douglas’ tribute to the Miles Davis band of the late ‘60s. Though certain aural similarities were present--Caine, for example, played the electric Fender Rhodes piano, and many of the themes had a somewhat mainstream, ‘60s-ish quality--it would be more accurate to describe the set simply as a first-rate example of contemporary improvisational jazz.


The material was intermittently compelling--especially during a cover of Rufus Wainwright’s “Poses,” as well as a Douglas original, “Penelope,” which included the odd insertion of a phrase from Davis’ classic “Boplicity.” But, for the most part, this was an evening in which soloing, by all the quintet members, took the spotlight.

Douglas’ most attractive qualities as an improviser were related to the remarkable similarity that his phrasing, sound and spontaneously generated lines bore to the work of the late trumpeter Don Ellis. Like Ellis, Douglas approached his solos with an active musical intelligence and a facile ability to articulate his musical thoughts. On the downside, however, he also--like Ellis--frequently tended to generate passages that were lacking in emotion.

Potter, however, was consistently superb. At this point in his career (he is 32), he is on a remarkable run, his playing improving by leaps and bounds. The improvisational environments Douglas provided, with their starts and stops, afforded plenty of opportunity around which to structure offbeat musical ideas. And Potter made the most of every opportunity. The only problem related to his playing was that there weren’t more opportunities for him to display his inventive wares.

Caine, Genus and Penn provided fine accompaniment, intently supportive of the front-line players and inventive in their soloing--in general, managing to deal effectively with the Bakery’s tricky acoustics.

The Dave Douglas New Quintet, Jazz Bakery, 3233 Helms Ave., Culver City; today-Friday, 8 and 9:30 p.m. $25. (310) 271- 9039.