BY MIKE SHANLEY
Forgive the bias, but seeing the words “jazz” and “electronic music” together in the same sentence strikes some level of fear in my heart. Or maybe it’s skepticism. It has nothing to do with a high opinion of one style and suspicion towards the other. But the combination often results in a few less-than-desirable situations: a static backing track that doesn’t bend and twist with the jazz soloist; and/or solos that are much shorter than what is normally heard in the same space, paring down the sense of adventure to a few short ideas or, worse yet, to a handful of rhythmic vamps.
However, trumpeter Dave Douglas is no greenhorn when it comes to experimentation. He’s played with John Zorn’s Ornette-goes-to-Israel quartet Masada, explored Balkan music with Tiny Bell Trio and created his own post-Bitches Brew brand of funky, electric jazz, in addition to playing more straight ahead original music. Several previous albums incorporated DJ Olive’s turntable into the mix of grooves and solos. So it doesn’t look as if Douglas just saw this as the next frontier in which to blow his horn.
For High Risk, the trumpeter collaborated with a new set of players who also cross lines. Bass guitarist and synth bassist Jonathan Maron played with acid jazz group Groove Collective. Drummer Mark Guiliana plays with pianist Brad Mehldau in the duo Mehliana but he also played in an electronic/jazz hybrid band with saxophonist Donny McCaslin. Keyboardist Shigeto (aka Zachary Saginaw) has made a name for himself as a part of the electronica collective Ghostly International, but he wanted to be a jazz drummer before he got into producing. Such empathy among players can make a world of difference in the final project, and such is the case with High Risk.
Things sound foreboding at first. The album opens with a synthetic wash of a chord that oozes slickness. But Guiliana clatters freely in the background as Douglas unfurls a loose solo, proving this isn’t going to be background, chill-out music. The trumpeter’s sharp attack — which often recalls ‘70s Miles Davis, in terms of the bright punch in his tone — develops when the band settles on a mid-tempo groove. Throughout the album, he makes some melodic choices that the Prince of Darkness never would have taken, and those alone make the seven tracks sound absorbing. In “Cardinals,” where the beat is reduced to a simple pulse, Douglas blows slowly with conversational warmth that makes every phrase captivating.
As High Risk moves forward it feels like, regardless of the accompaniment, Douglas could have made this session feel solid. But the rest of the band delivers is spades. Aside from the opening synth wash, Shigeto’s keys have an edgy quality that alternately create soundscapes or leap forward, like in the dub effects of “Etiquette.” Guiliana adds drive where it’s needed, or sits back on the mellower tracks, in both cases making sure the beat never sounds automatic.
The final result feels like a quantum leap for both jazz and electronic music.
DOWNLOAD: “Etiquette,” “Household Item.”