Dave Douglas & Keystone: “Moonshine”

Dave Douglas makes what is arguably the most thrilling, vibrantly modern jazz of anyone working in the genre today, so it’s a little strange to find him drawing inspiration from an old silent movie star on not just one album, but on two. On his last album, Keystone, he and his band used the films of Fatty Arbuckle as a creative launch pad, creating a sort of hip, humorous soundtrack from an alternate universe. The album wasn’t just a hit with critics-who showered it with accolades-but it was obviously liberating for the musicians, as well; not only did the band take that album’s title for their name, but they’ve returned to the same creative well for its follow-up, Moonshine, another record inspired by Fatty’s iconic work.

But don’t think of it as a sequel; if Keystone was meant to be a sort of revisionist’s silent movie soundtrack, Moonshine simply uses Arbuckle’s films as a starting point for a set of songs that take on life far beyond the parameters of their starting concept. This is jazz music in the fullest sense of the word-undeniably American music that takes into account what came before it and dares us to imagine what might come next. In other words: It’s jazz music that makes us reconsider what jazz music is in the first place.

Opening track “Dog Star” sets the agenda for the rest of the album-it’s at once dark and mysterious, elegant and a little spooky, slinking its way through jazz, funk, and soul with no regard for genre lines. Its sultry rhythm can be traced back to On a Corner-era Miles Davis, but Douglas’ trumpet solo is more akin to the brilliant improvisations of Miles Ahead or Kind of Blue. This is the fulfillment of fusion jazz’s promise-hip and irreverent in one sense, but tuneful, accessible, and totally respectful of the rich history of jazz.

The title cut continues the same ideas, but with a stronger presence from turntable and loops guy DJ Olive. His studio craft adds further dimension to Douglas’ full-bodied compositions; notice how Olive’s post-production work pulls this song back and forth between different tempos, giving it the kind of inebriated feel that the title suggests before it finally locks into a thick, swampy groove powered by bass and Adam Benjamin’s Rhodes piano.

The rest of the album follows suit; this is undeniably cool, edgy music, deeply indebted to funk and rock music but still jazz through and through. It’s got a sultry, late-night feel that is effortlessly maintains, to the point where the thumping, pure rhythm track “Kitten” sounds like futuristic funk, while “Flood Plane”-with its samples of disembodied voices floating through the ether-is a spooky epic that occupies the same sonic terrain as a Portishead song. And that’s what makes this music great-sure, it’s moody, but it’s also wonderfully evocative, and totally unencumbered by genre boundaries, all the while tipping its hat toward a deep appreciation for the conventions of jazz. This is no faux-soundtrack or sequel-this is the sound of modern jazz, a jazz that’s grounded in the past but looking toward the future.


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