Maybe its easy to forget with the passing of almost 80 years since the Bebop revolution, that Dizzy Gillespie wasn’t the clowning showman of grainy youtube footage watched all at once with time compressed into meaningless instancy but a fearless sonic radical, changing and innovating, moving through revolution and change creating and assimilating myriad influences, restless and experimental. He was fired from Cab Calloway’s band ostensibly for the firing of a spitball at the leader (for which he was blamed) but more likely because he kept playing all that “Chinese music’ incongruent with Calloway’s sonic safe space.
Dave Douglas’ Dizzy Atmosphere tribute draws on these conceptual ideas of experimentation and evolving music, tribute as continuation of ideas rather than slavish recreation.
Of the albums nine tracks only two are Gillespie compositions, placed at the heart of the album, allowing Douglas’ originals to spread and spiral out from their legacy as if they are the planet and the new compositions are the atmosphere made possible by their existence.
The dual trumpet front line with Dave Adewumi allows for infinite sonic blurring and possibility, their tones coalescing and diverging as if brush strokes, definable but with blurred edges bleeding into the music and refusing to be tamed into straight lines. Their numerous interactions evoke not the ‘cutting contests’ of Minton’s jams, apocryphal or real battles but the feeling of artists in pursuit of a intangible perfection, mutually inspiring each other to greater heights and revelling in the sonic treasure of the rarefied atmosphere.
The record is lush and beautiful, Fabian Almazan’s piano creating deep and immersive lagoons over which the trumpets wallow romantically and soar with angular dexterity, moving effortlessly between wistful romanticism and hard-edged corners. Shades of Mingus and Ellington evoked with effortless mastery, whilst other moments of orchestration have wistful traces of Kenny Wheeler.
Matt Steven’s guitar acts almost at times as an anchor in modernity, the use of subtle effects and pedals pulling us forward and rooting us in now, juxtaposing without jarring, always sympathetic, channeling us down another path of possibilities.
The Bass of Carmen Rothwell provides consummate anchoring of the ensemble and also acts as portentous foreshadowing of change, ominous cadences prompting fiery pyrotechnics.
Dizzy Atmosphere is a complex and layered work, creating sound worlds built from seemingly divergent sources all masterfully and sympathetically built into a series of shifting realities that undulate and stream into new environments propelling the improvisation and interaction into an interconnected stratosphere. Made possible by a dextrous and beautifully attuned ensemble, building huge sonic environments and capable of the tiniest of subtle intricacies as well as the large almost overwhelming impressionistically orchestral vibes.
Crucially though, Dave Douglas on any project is always instantly identifiable. He has his own distinctly recognisable sonic identity and language which transcends the idea of imitation, allowing him to transcend superficial ideas of artificial genre construct. Whether as a side musician or leader he always sounds like himself and is always in the service of the music, never shrinking into a facsimile but constantly connected to a vast infinite heritage of musical input. With his tribute projects he draws us inside a process, holding up a torch in a swirling vortex of infinite possibilities and picking a path. An exploration of the endless continuum of inspiration his uniqueness is a perfectly apposite admixture of heritage and innovation.
One of the strengths of the music here is the way it propels and implies, it’s almost impossible to listen to Cadillac without hearing Gillespie’s gravely voice drift across the trumpet coalescence of the melodic centrepiece, likewise Pickin’ The Cabbage is a wild ride through implied big band motifs and large ensemble power, a black and white newsreel footage ride through 52nd Street in Bops heyday and contains a delightful Joey Baron solo which brings Chano Pozo to the forefront of your mind without ever sounding like anything but Joey Baron.
There is restless innovation as well as deep respect and appreciation here, constant tension and release, the ensembles pulls you in different directions very tangibly exploring the endless possibilities for this music and often leaving you dazed by the amount of ideas introduced, explored and developed seemingly in a short space of time. The hypnotic effect of the beauty of the ensemble building and exposition places a timelessness on all this material, its possible to get lost in this music and I will continue to joyfully do so.