Interview: Dave Douglas on debuting his bold new "Metamorphosis"

Don't miss Metamorphosis this March 3-4!

News | Feb, 23rd 2017

"This music is both completely improvised and completely composed!" That's how trumpeter and composer Dave Douglas describes Metamorphosis, the project he'll be performing for the first time with a star-studded new group in the Appel Room this March 3-4. According to the official description for the project, now being rolled out as a monthly singles series via Douglas's own label Greenleaf Music, "Metamorphosis invites each player to invoke their own vision of the stars, the shapes, and the stories with the purest spontaneity and personal expressiveness." Thanks to his highly accomplished bandmates—trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith, saxophonist Oliver Lake, drummer Andrew Cyrille, guitarist Marc Ribot, pianist Myra Melford, bassist Mark Dresser, and percussionist Susie Ibarra—Douglas's audiences will surely be presented with a breathtaking aural depiction of the cosmos. 

We spoke to Douglas about how he selected the group's personnel, what it's like to run his own label, and where to start digging into his bandmates' impressive discographies.

Jazz at Lincoln Center: What considerations went into forming the particular lineup of this group? Was the aim to achieve a particular sonic palette or group dynamic, or was it just about assembling a particularly adventurous group of people that you enjoy playing with?

Dave Douglas: I’m very honored that Jazz at Lincoln Center asked me to create a night of improvised music. I feel this is a fairly unique format, especially for Jazz at Lincoln Center. I simply wanted to create a group with the very best improvisers I know. Some are my heroes. It seemed appropriate that they should lend their wisdom and experience to the occasion.

In the octet, the feeling of balance was part of the consideration. I like playing with other trumpeters, and Wadada is one of my very favorites. I felt, in filling out the group, that the most important thing was to have a balance of diverse approaches. I knew I would write some open-ended frameworks for our playing, and I was intrigued to think of the various personalities and how they would react to the material and to the group.

JALC: This is adventurous music. Any listening tips for jazz fans who are just starting to venture into more avant grade territory?

DD: I think with improvised music seeing it in person immediately clears up the alleged “difficulties.”

Improvised music is simple and human. It gets at the core of human interaction. Any adventures we musicians have together are mutual excursions, and I think that hearing the music as dialogue is a big part of an understanding of what it is about. The members of this group are big personalities and they all have years of experience. It will be exciting to hear how they come together in the truly spontaneous interactions.

JALC: The compositions that make up Metamorphosis are being released in monthly installments as a subscriber series through your own label, Greenleaf Music. What have been the rewards and challenges of running Greenleaf?

DD: One of the great rewards of running this music company for over 10 years is the ability to take on great creative projects and present them exactly the way they need to be presented. Having a home for sustainable creativity has challenged me to engage with new formats and audience interfaces in new ways. 

Before Greenleaf Music, I would have never thought it possible to record a suite of 12 pieces and release one piece per month over the course of the year. It’s an unfolding vision of the work that is revolutionary for the time. It helps me, as an artist, to escape the boxes that we are so often expected to stay in. Nothing thrives inside a box.

This is the third year in a row that I have created such a series. It’s a learning curve for me, and for listeners, but I also find the engagement to be quite intense, and quickly expanding. Self-sufficiency for artists has been in discussion for many years and I feel we’re entering a new age of possibility that is also having a positive impact on the art form itself.

JALC: You’ve written that Metamorphosis is "a piece derived from the shapes of star formations and their associated stories in Greek mythology,” and some of the pieces share their names with constellations. Can you get any more specific about your tactics (or the band’s) for transmuting that subject matter into sound?

DD: When I showed these players the scores, I was prepared to explain and answer questions. They didn’t have any.

These musicians go deep into contemplation of the myths and also the related star diagrams in the scores. I have complete and profound faith in them, as I can see each musician reflecting on how they will wield their participation. The challenge to me will be to keep up!

Asked for recommended recordings by his bandmates, Douglas chose the following: 

Andrew Cyrille Quartet - The Declaration of Musical Independence

Wadada Leo Smith - America's National Parks 

Oliver Lake Big Band - Wheels

Myra Melford - Snowy Egret 

Mark Dresser Seven - Sedimental You

Marc Ribot & The Young Philadelphians - Live in Tokyo

Susie Ibarra - Drum Sketches

Don't miss Metamorphosis this March 3-4. Tickets are still available here!

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