Recorded in New York, Jan-May 2005.
Dave Douglas is among the most ambitious jazzmen in recent history. The sheer breadth and depth of his catalog is, when taken as a whole, rather startling, not only for its ambition but for its remarkable consistency. Keystone is Douglas' tribute to Roscoe "Fatty" Arbunkle, one of the first real movie stars who was destroyed by a scandal that took three trials to have him exonerated of all charges. But it took its toll: Arbunkle was essentially ruined by it, and the rumors of that time still persist. Douglas sets the record straight in his liner notes here. Keystone is a double-disc set with a DVD of Arbunkle's short silent films with the soundtrack provided by Douglas. The other is a CD of the full pieces that stands on its own as an album. This is Douglas' electronic band and features Jamie Saft on Wurlitzer piano, DJ Olive on turntables, drummer Gene Lake, saxophonist Marcus Strickland, and bassist Brad Jones. David Torn co-produced the album with Douglas and is like a silent member of the band because of his atmospheric touches and nuances. This is a groove-oriented recording. Douglas goes for the easy, loping, languid shapes and colors that are both impressionistic and expressionistic in the formal aesthetic senses of those terms. Certainly Bill Frisell (a frequent Douglas collaborator) set a precedent with his two albums devoted to the films of Buster Keaton, but Douglas takes it a step further to what feel more like songs in their structures. There are melodies here one can hum to. Compositionally, one can hear Wayne Shorter in these tunes, as he wrote for the early Miles Davis electric band. (And one wonders what Miles would have thought of this approach by Douglas.) Keystone is more accessible and lyric than Freak In (2003), but it shares the same restraint and fine taste to showcase the savvy and swagger of his band rather than the technology available. The technology used on the set is an enhancement to a band playing in the studio rather than as a crutch to lean on. It is not intrusive, but rather a reflective backdrop from which the band articulates its lyric approach. Nowhere is this more evident than on the opener, "A Noise from the Deep"; the utterly elegant and graceful "Mabel Normand"; the spooky yet graceful "The Real Roscoe"; and the funky, swinging "Famous Player," all of which are in the center of the record. Keystone is an excellent, brave, and exciting offering from a man whose talent and vision are perfectly balanced.
All Music Guide