Dave Douglas reconvenes his celebrated quintet for the labyrinthine and lyrical Songs of Ascent

New pieces inspired by Psalms 120-134, known collectively as the “Songs of Ascent”

Available now.

In 2021 trumpeter and composer Dave Douglas completed Secular Psalms, leading a sextet with uncommon instrumentation through a program inspired by the Ghent Altarpiece — a masterpiece of 15th-century Flemish painting, deeply religious in nature. Moving on from that project, Douglas was impelled to look to the source, to the biblical psalms themselves, in particular the inspiring sequence of 15 psalms known as the Songs of Ascent. To Douglas the task became clear: write 15 pieces of music, in order, responding in some way to each of these. Another, a 16th, emerged very early in the process, unconnected to the psalms though conceived in that spirit. It is “Never Let Me Go,” the leadoff track from the Dave Douglas Quintet’s extraordinary new double album Songs of Ascent.

Songs of Ascent Book 1: Degrees is a conventional release, available on CD and digitally through the normal channels. Songs of Ascent Book 2: Steps is an exclusive at the Greenleaf Music store and was initially released only to those who subscribe and take advantage of Greenleaf’s unique membership offerings, including ongoing access to otherwise unreleased material.

“I hope listeners will want to join in to hear what is happening in both books,” Douglas says. “They are very different. The subscription model has become increasingly important in our work as an independent company. Independent of trends and advertising and expectations. Independent in terms of style or genre. independent in terms of having a dedicated base of listeners who want to hear everything we do, freeing us up to continue pursuing the best creative music and musicians that we can.”

For both volumes of Songs of Ascent, Douglas saw a golden opportunity to revisit the quintet lineup that had recorded Be Still, Time Travel and Brazen Heart a few years earlier, all to great acclaim. Multi-reedist Jon Irabagon, pianist Matt Mitchell, bassist Linda May Han Oh and drummer Rudy Royston, all of whom have seen considerable artistic growth in the intervening years, were eager to gather again and bring Douglas’ vision to life. There was one catch, however. It would all have to be done remotely.

This was far from insurmountable; in fact Secular Psalms was done remotely as well. Remote recording is “a natural way of working now,” Douglas asserts (although recording all his trumpet parts first made Songs of Ascent more of a departure). “An interesting and wonderful challenge comes in creating structures that provide the freedom and interaction that is crucial to this music,” he says. “From the first inkling of composing Songs of Ascent, the challenge of finding freedom in our new environment was paramount. Paradoxically, our isolation facilitated this intensive work period, and the process allowed me to write for the band in a way I would not have otherwise. I’m very excited to hear what happens when we play these pieces live!”

Recording separately yet striking the uncanny balance of looseness and precision on the spiraling, complex unison lines of “Deceitful Tongues” (Book 1) and “Make a Horn Grow” (Book 2) was no ordinary feat. “Part of that is how well I know them and they know me,” Douglas maintains. “They also each had the freedom to contribute to those unisons in a way that uniquely contains their personality. You can hear that. I also had to be super intentional about where I played the rhythm and phrasing in my own parts. I was delighted to hear their reactions as each new track arrived!”

Throughout both books, there is an intriguing split between those challenging unison pieces, with freer harmony and more emphasis on collective improvisation, and the others which are more tonal, tempo-based, legato and lyrical, like “A Weaned Child” (Book 2) and “Peace Within Your Walls” (Book 1). This conceptual roadmap took shape as Douglas composed matter-of-factly in order. “Beginning each piece, I bounced off the previous one, looking for variety of tones and feelings, but also of procedure and means. So the elements of the tunes transform from one to the next very intentionally. In matters of the spirit, all of these myriad emotions and experiences are with us, and I wanted this in the music. Devotion is not a singular expression. I wanted to come at this from as many directions as possible, as the psalms do.”

On Secular Psalms, Douglas drew text from sources as diverse as the Latin Mass, Marvin Gaye, the medieval poet Christine de Pisan and even himself, seeking to expand on the psalm as a literary idea. Songs of Ascent, by contrast, takes the words of the psalms themselves as a starting point, yet features no vocals at all. “In the song titles,” Douglas recalls, “I tried to pick the central image from each psalm and somehow evoke the deeper sense and feeling involved. I enthusiastically recommend the Robert Alter translations. It needs to be said that the uplift of working with these texts was so important to me. The world needs this light, and the daily task of making music with this specific purpose of uplift is necessary for not only our own sanity, but for the furtherance of all positive energies worldwide. The psalms in Songs of Ascent arise from the essential need for positivity and focus. That is the key defining trait of what they are.”

Liner Notes

This quintet began playing together in 2011, so it was uplifting for me that we could come together again from our separate spaces to record this suite. Inspired by the biblical psalms, I wrote these while I was in the process of making Secular Psalms, wanting to go and revisit all the originals. There are 15 psalms known as Songs of Ascent. These psalms are fascinating, somewhat mysterious and inspiring. Each of these pieces was written as a reflection of one of these psalms, with the exception of the first one, which I wrote somewhat impulsively on the day I decided to do this. In my excitement and haste, I neglected to give it a number. So there are 16 pieces in all. 8 are on this disc. The subsequent 8 are on a companion disc subtitled Steps, which will be immediately available to members of Greenleaf Music. Thank you all for your support! One small point of info about this set: I recorded all my parts first.

– Dave Douglas

Track Details

1. Never Let Me Go
2. Deceitful Tongues
3. Lift Up My Eyes
4. Peace Within Your Walls
5. Enthroned
6. A Fowler’s Snare
7. Scepter
8. Mouths Full Of Joy


Dave Douglas, trumpet
Jon Irabagon, reeds
Matt Mitchell, piano
Linda May Han Oh, bass
Rudy Royston, drum

Production Credits

Executive Producer: Dave Douglas
Written in May 2020 and recorded over the following year
Recorded by each musician in their home
Assembled by Dave Douglas and Tyler McDiarmid
Mixed and mastered by Tyler McDiarmid
Graphic design by Lukas Frei

All compositions and arrangements by Dave Douglas (Dave Douglas Music / BMI)

Press Inquiries

Matt Merewitz
Fully Altered Media


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