Talk of artistic freedom is hardly uncommon in the world of jazz, but it’s rare when a high-profile artist is willing to put his money where his mouth is. Trumpeter Dave Douglas has done just that — quite emphatically — by stepping off the label treadmill and launching his imprint, Greenleaf, with a head-clearing new disc, “Mountain Passages.”
Douglas led his intriguingly assembled quintet — with tuba and cello contributing considerably to a hefty low-end — through eight songs from that disc, tweaking their angles like a precocious kid tangling with a Rubik’s Cube. Rather than take off on open-ended flights, Douglas kept things concise, lacing pieces like “Family of the Climber” with organic horn lines that owed as much to traditional folk as to postbop.
The material aired was commissioned by Italy’s Sound of the Dolomites Festival, which requested a suite designed to be played in rarefied mountain air. To Douglas’ credit, the material — especially the spry “Gumshoe” and the noir-tinged “Twelve Degrees Proof” — was equally at home one flight below the streets of Gotham.
The set’s relative paucity of solos underscored the quintet’s intricate knitting, with Douglas and tuba player Marcus Rojas playing off each other with masterfully taut timbral control. Opting to replace the standard bass with a cellist, Douglas put the rhythmic onus squarely on Tyshawn Sorey, and the 21-year-old responded with aplomb, pairing skittish hi-hat chatter with tom-tom beats suggestive of distant thunder.
Dave Douglas’ Nomad performs at L.A’s Jazz Bakery March 2-5.