By Rachel Cantrell
Last Thursday marked the opening sets of a four-night jazz series at The Jazz Standard, featuring trumpeter Dave Douglas and music from his recent 2011 releases on the Greenleaf Portable Series. The Key Motion Quintet, a fusion of another Dave Douglas group, Keystone, and tenor saxophonist Donny McCaslin’s group, Perpetual Motion, was a personal nod to my roots at home in Los Angeles with the presence of keyboardist Adam Benjamin, a prominent member of the eclectic Los Angeles-based jazz group, Kneebody.
The band already had a youthful appeal before the start of the set — Douglas, donning a black hat and laid-back attire, was surrounded by a predominantly younger group of jazz musicians. Keyboardist Benjamin and bassist Tim Lefebvre both had their individual sets of electronic effects units, meticulously making adjustments to pedal boards and otherwise, signifying a considerable amount of electronic distortion to come. The disjointed union of two very separate spheres of music also hinted at a greater potential appeal to younger listeners like me — Douglas and McCaslin both held traditional jazz instruments in their hands, while Benjamin and Lefebvre’s electronic equipment looked closer to something out of Meshuggah than the usual setup on The Jazz Standard’s stage.
The theme of connecting the old and the new was immediately apparent within the opening minutes of the band’s first piece, “Moonshine,” and was held consistently throughout the set. Atop the energetic, electronic vamp created by Benjamin, Lefebvre, and Mark Giuliana on the drums, Douglas improvised a virtuosic solo that easily could have been played in a traditional bebop setting. This bebop-esque solo, combined with Giuliana’s aggressive drumming, heavy with tiny subdivisions and intricate patterns, and Lefebvre and Benjamin’s individual electronic ebbs and distortions, was a clear gesture towards this marriage between traditional jazz styles and modern electronic influences. Douglas did this once again later in the set, this time with a muted trumpet solo reminiscent of a cool-jazz-era Miles Davis, still over the context of the pulsing electronics from Benjamin and Lefebvre and the unwavering polyrhythmic patterns from Giuliana.
What Douglas did for me, on another note, was in my experience previously unimaginable. For the first time since I began my studies here in New York City, I brought with me a friend who wasn’t a jazz musician. With my previous exposure to Benjamin through Kneebody and Giuliana through the Avishai Cohen Trio, I already expected to be enjoying the show — but would she? This was answered when I glanced over at her halfway into the set — she was gaping in awe at Giuliana’s technical dexterity, nodding in approval at Benjamin’s reverberating chords on the Rhodes.
Douglas’ ability to tastefully place elements of traditional jazz into a more youthfully relatable context allowed me, in turn, to feel more secure and comfortable in sharing this music outside of my usual small circle of jazz students and enthusiasts. Through Dave Douglas and the Key Motion Quintet I was able, for the first time since I began my first semester in the city, to leave a jazz show with the affirmation that it would also be accessible to a broader set of younger listeners — both jazz fans and non-jazz fans alike.
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