The Dave Douglas and Elan Mehler Sextet sets haiku and contemporary poetry into the context of improvising music. Originally released only on vinyl, now on CD and digital.

Released March 24, 2023.

If There Are Mountains is the first album by Dave Douglas and Elan Mehler as co-leaders, setting poetry and specifically haiku within the context of improvising music. The album, previously released only to vinyl on Mehler’s label Newvelle Records, now sees a fresh release via Douglas’ own label Greenleaf Music.

While the spark for Douglas and Mehler’s collaboration around haiku goes back two decades to their first gigs together – including an early performance in Denver of Douglas’ “Village of No Bells” – this vocal-forward ensemble sounds undeniably fresh and melodically adventurous. The trumpeter and pianist are joined by vocalist Dominique Eade, reedist John Gunther, bassist Simón Willson, and drummer Dayeon Seok.

Douglas and Mehler composed the music of all thirteen tracks between themselves, including four never-before-heard songs: Douglas’ “Arms Folded to the Moon”, “A Thicket of Summer Grass”, and “Life” plus Mehler’s “Barn’s Burnt Down”.

The sextet performed in the US during March 2023 in support of If There Are Mountains. For Douglas, reawakening relationships around the country at this juncture since the pandemic is an inspiring endeavor. Despite the challenges of touring creative music being arguably greater than ever, Douglas sees the opportunity to use his recognition and experience to help rebuild pathways for performance.

From Elan Mehler and Dave Douglas – CD Liner Notes:

I’ve been pitching Dave Douglas to come record for Newvelle Records since the label began, so it genuinely surprised me when Dave proposed recording a project together. Dave had set some haikus to music in the early 2000’s, and we had covered one of those songs — “Village of No Bells” — on a gig we played together in Denver. I loved the way Dave told an almost parallel story to these short lines from 17th century poet Basho, amplifying the message but also turning it on its head.

Village of No Bells
Spring evenings
What’s to listen for?

Despite my lack of knowledge of Japanese poetry, I started reading haikus and searching for a “click” that would inspire some compositional ideas for me. It was rough going. I had expected this world of ancient Japanese poems to yield images and gestures that would be fertile ground for musical exploration. Haikus, to my uneducated ears, were often quotidian and startlingly matter of fact. But, inspired by Dave’s faith in me, I spent weeks reading through collections, feeling completely lost. Then, I found my spark:

Even a Nameless Stream
Yosa Buson

May rains
Even a nameless stream
Is a frightening thing

I heard those first two words, “May rains,” in an ascending interval of a fifth. A declaration and a harbinger and the rest of the song followed in minutes. I loved building these compositions out of such coded input. It felt like a key to a secret world. When I heard what Dave had been composing in our first rehearsal, it sent me reeling (and back to the drawing board on my own tunes). Dave is well-known in certain circles for his fastidious charts, but not in the way you would expect. There’s a movement in improvised music toward the overly elaborate composition. Mixed meter, thorough composition, elaborate counterpoint, and huge stylistic changes are all commonplace. In contrast, Dave’s compositions are generally very simple but also very precise. This rigor of attention is actually freeing for the musician, because the departure point is so clear. Something in Dave’s style has a clear consonance with the haiku form: “Start here. Jump.”

What an incredible band we’ve pulled together for this record! John, Dominique, Simón and Dayeon have such unique perspectives and voices, and it was humbling to see how they threw themselves into these compositions. This band coalesced around the initial gig in Denver in 2018. Dave and Dominique had known each other for many years. I had just met Dominique at a Lee Konitz show, and we subsequently played a duo show. Dominique is a bit of a legend around Boston. She’s been a mentor and a teacher to many if not most of the outstanding vocalists of the last couple of decades, and her years of work with Ran Blake are a continual astonishment.

Working on these pieces made me think of one of my favorite poets and song writers, Adam McBride-Smith. Adam has a real gift for evocative natural depictions. I had set to music a poem of his, “Here on the Plains,” for a project we released together in 2010. I knew it would be perfect for this band. OnceI started tinkering with it, I reached out to Adam about working on something new, and he wrote the astonishing lyrics to “Wolf Orchard.”

The overwhelming emotion I get out of listening again to the record, almost a year after we got out of the studio, is gratitude. I’m writing these notes in June 2020, and the world feels VERY unbalanced and frightening. It’s such a balm to feel thankful. To feel connected—with these poets, these amazing musicians, the music, the Newvelle Community, Marc Urselli and our home at East Side Sound, the visual artists who lend us their work every year… It all spins out into something larger and it alights on an evening like this, like an enormous gift.

— Elan Mehler

Very proud to finally see the CD and digital release of this recording originally made for vinyl-only release on Newvelle Records. Here it is, with four extra pieces!

It was inspiring to work with these words. Enjoy and happy listening!

— Dave Douglas

1. “If There Are Mountains” (Douglas)

Original text by Santōka Taneda

If there are mountains
I look at the mountains
On rainy days
I listen to the rain

Spring, summer
Autumn, winter
Tomorrow, too, will be good
Tonight, too is good

2. “We Saw You Off” (Douglas)

Original text by Saigyō

We saw you off
And returning through the fields
I thought morning dew
Had wet my sleeves
But it was tears

3. “Even a Nameless Stream” (Mehler)

Original haiku by Yosa Buson

May rains
Even a nameless stream
Is a frightening thing

4. “Wolf Orchard” (McBride-Smith / Mehler)

In orchard dreams
The hired man’s gone
And hounds lie low

How the gold grass climbs
In orchard dreams

In orchard dreams
How the cold frost limes
The wire bound cross
And foxglove crowns
The fruitless beams

Now the cold keeps time
Disordered scenes
And bootless dreams
Man’s gone now
And wolves lie down
In Orchard dream

5. “Haiku” (Douglas / Mehler)

no lyrics

6. “Here on the Plains” (McBride-Smith / Mehler)

Through the window
We watch the wind blow
Silver breakers
Through the summer fields

Storm-clouds’ shadows
Swallow silos
Homes and hedgerows
Man the harpoons

Here on the plains we wake
To find the air grown salty
Our talk saltier still
Interlaced with courtly pleasantries
And perilous diphthongs from old world tongues
Our hands would almost
Mistake the plow handle for keel
And we go sailing off
Into the endless waves of grass

7. “Village of No Bells” (Douglas)

Original haiku by Matsuo Bashō

Village of no bells
Spring evenings
What’s to listen for?

8. “The Spring Current” (Mehler)

Original text by Yosa Buson

Wading through it
Her feet muddied
The spring current

9. “With Your Singing” (Douglas)

Original haiku by Matsuo Bashō

With your singing make me lonelier than ever
You solitary bird
Cuckoo of the forest

10. “Arms Folded to the Moon” (Douglas)

Original text by Jack Kerouac

Arms folded to the moon
Among the cows

11. “A Thicket of Summer Grass” (Douglas)

Original text by Matsuo Bashō

A thicket of summer grass
Is all that remains
Of the dreams and ambitions
Of ancient warriors

12 “Barn’s Burnt Down” (Mehler)

Original text by Mizuta Masahide

Barn’s burnt down
Now I can see the moon

13 “Life” (Douglas)

Love doesn’t come peacefully
Love doesn’t come fair
Life isn’t a fantasy
Life lives
Why is it you run from me
What makes you recall
All this is the best of me
Life lives
Love in your arms
Love in your eyes
Now owning it gratefully
All part of a plan
I’m up for the mysters
Life lives
Love in your arms
Love in your eyes
Love doesn’t come peacefully
Love doesn’t come fair
Life isn’t a fantasy
Life lives


  • Dave Douglas, trumpet
  • Elan Mehler, piano
  • Dominique Eade, vocals
  • John Gunther, saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet
  • Simón Willson, bass
  • Dayeon Seok, drums

Production Credits

  • Executive Producer: Dave Douglas
  • Produced by Elan Mehler
  • Recorded and Mixed by Marc Urselli, May 27th and May 28th 2019 at East Side Sound NYC, New York
  • Mastered by Tyler McDiarmid
  • Photos by Anna Yatskevich
  • Graphic design by Lukas Frei

Dave Douglas compositions © 2023 Dave Douglas Music, BMI.

Elan Mehler compositions © 2023 Elan Mehler Music, BMI except “Here on the Plains” © 2023 Omakase Music / Bucks Publishing.

“Wolf Orchard” & “Here on the Plains” text by Adam McBride-Smith (Copyright Control).

Press Inquiries

Will Chernoff
Greenleaf Music


Website: davedouglas.com / elanmehler.com 
Twitter: @davedouglas
Instagram: @davedouglas
Facebook: @DaveDouglas