BLOG: The Breakdown – Moonshine Review

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The Breakdown: Dave Douglas
Written by Tom Johnson
Published November 27, 2007

Thanksgiving has come and gone, Black Friday has come and gone, the stupidly named “Cyber Monday” has come and gone . . . and now we’re left with those last few, dry weeks before Christmas where the labels don’t even feel like shoving out box-sets, best-ofs and live albums. No, what we’ll get now is stuff the big labels probably didn’t thing could sell any other time of the year, and things from small labels that realize that their audiences don’t pay attention to goofy things like the calendar. Take, for instance, this week’s one lone recommendation . . .

Dave Douglas – Moonshine: I really admire trumpeter Dave Douglas. Not only is he world-renowned as one of jazz’s best, he has taken the high and difficult road by setting out to create his own little sanctuary for musicians, a label, Greenleaf Music, where they get treated fairly and where listeners can feel the same. My dealings with them have always been nothing less than wonderful – great products and quick shipping, what more can you ask for . . . other than “more?”

Well, today we get a little more – Douglas called together his Keystone band (Marcus Strickland: saxophone; Gene Lake: drums; Brad Jones: bass; Adam Benjamin – Fender Rhodes; DJ Olive – turntables and electronics) for another album based around, like Keystone, a silent film, this time the unfinished Buster Keaton/Fatty Arbuckle project, Moonshine, from 1917.

Where the first project worked as a soundtrack to the accompanying DVD, which included Arbuckle’s “Fatty and Mabel Adrift” and a shorter video of footage compiled from “Fatty’s Tin-Type Tangle,” Moonshine is meant to stand on its own, simply using the film as inspiration, a jumping off point. And, just like the first project, you don’t really need to know the films to enjoy this – Douglas’ band is a powerhouse that will have listeners riveted with or without a concept. The result is much like the music of Keystone – gritty and urban, but filled with exactly the twists and turns one would expect from Douglas. Rooting itself in several genres and eras at once, DJ Olive keeps things firmly in the world of today with his electronic explorations while the horns display a distinctly European flair and Adam Benjamin’s Rhodes work reflects a bit of 70s fusion. Gene Lake’s drumming spans it all, tying everything together – much of the time he’s deep in a groove with bassist Brad Jones but often he’s coloring the air with little percussive fills that, you know, “really tie the room together.”

Dare I say that it’s among the best jazz of the year? It’s certainly the very last best thing to emerge this year – which is no backhanded compliment. It’s very hard to find a truly disappointing Douglas release, especially in the past few years when he seems to especially have been on his game, and that’s no different here. What’s unfortunate is that the album is out so late this year, when it will surely go ignored by many, and only available through his site until sometime in the spring when it will get wider release. Perhaps it’s a small Christmas gift from the man and the band to the fans – we get to enjoy it early. What’s more, we get to enjoy it even earlier – when placing an order, you’ll gain access to downloads of high quality mp3s of the album tracks in about a day. Not only that, but included in that is one non-album track download in the form of “Photosynthesis.” Like I said, Douglas and Greenleaf Music have been good to their supporters. Why not find out for yourself?

Samples (full-length tracks):

Dog Star (5:01)
Moonshine (7:30)