Dave Douglas’ Three Views is the end product of a technologically savvy new initiative. This handsomely packaged box set comprises the first three digital releases from his “Greenleaf Portable Series,” which features the trumpeter and composer performing his music with radically different groups. Launched last June, the GPS series offers informal sessions that can be presented to fans almost immediately — via streaming and high-quality downloads. This innovative business model has sparked excitement on the Internet, but the series is most noteworthy for its musical ambition.
The set’s first volume, Rare Metals, presents the studio debut of Douglas’ Brass Ecstasy, a horn ensemble with Nasheet Waits on drums. The music moves between bold fanfares (“Town Hall”); swinging rhythms and Marcus Rojas’ roiling tuba solos (“Night Growl”); and a patchwork of skittering notes that knit themselves into muscular riffs (“Thread”). Swooning sighs of brass and a rippling solo by Douglas propel the disc’s highlight, a gorgeously meditative arrangement of “Lush Life.”
The volume that’s garnered the most attention, Orange Afternoons, is a quintet date showcasing some of today’s most esteemed jazz players: pianist Vijay Iyer, saxophonist Ravi Coltrane, bassist Linda Oh and drummer Marcus Gilmore. They perform new compositions filled with long melodic lines, unison playing and subtly churning rhythms. The opening track, “The Gulf,” sets the mood with languid tones and genteel textures that slowly evolve into dramatic exhortations. Up-tempo numbers like “Orologi” offer startling pyrotechnics, while slower pieces like “Valori Bollati” walk the line between pleasantly placid and somnambulant. Overall, this is a surprisingly subdued session that’s spiked with passages of genuine excitement. Let’s hope this group embarks on future excursions to more fully explore the possibilities only hinted at here.
The most successful volume pairs Douglas with the new-music ensemble So Percussion. Bad Mango mixes trumpet with marimba, musical saw, glockenspiel and nontraditional percussion to create soundscapes that don’t easily fit in any sonic tradition. Douglas’ exploratory trumpet shines throughout, whether against a backdrop of ambient tone drones, funky beats or sci-fi textures. Occasionally, pieces become too diffuse, but these concise tracks generally command attention through their masterful evocation of far-flung moods.
Even though Three Views derives from high-tech advances, it’s ironically tripped up by the past. The set must compete with Douglas’ formidable catalog, and nothing here scales the heights of masterpieces such as Charms of the Night Sky, Constellations or Parallel Worlds. Ultimately, these releases are for fans who wish to follow Douglas’ process in something close to real time.
— Jeff Jackson