Dave Douglas's "Be Still"
I began the day today uplifted by the soulful, elegiac music of Dave Douglas. The trumpeter's new release, Be Still, is dedicated to his mother, Emily Bates Douglas, who died last August. Douglas says his mother was "the keeper of our scrapbooks and validator of our enthusiasms." He estimates that she saw him play over 200 times, and often encouraged him to learn some of her favorite hymns. The CD’s title track is based on the Finlandia Hymn by Jean Sebelius. Various Christian hymns have been set to the Finnish composer's music over the years, and here it’s the commonly sung, “Be Still My Soul,” by Katherina von Schlegel. Two additional pieces, "God Be with You," and "This Is My Father's World," were included at the concert Douglas played in Emily’s memory with Brass Ecstasy last September 30 at the South Amherst Congregational Church. I wrote about the performance here.
Be Still features the vocalist Aoife O’Donovan, who is best known as the singer with the rootsy bluegrass band, Crooked Still. Here she is singing Robert Johnson's classic blues, "Come On in My Kitchen." O'Donovan was raised in Newton, and is the daughter of Brian O’Donovan, host of Celtic Sojourn on WGBH. In this article on Douglas for The New York Times, Nate Chinen described her as a singer of “unerring instinct.” Not surprisingly, she brings a Celtic flavor to these hymns of English, Scottish, Finnish, German and American origin, and sounds at once earthy and ethereal.
Chinen adds, “Be Still is a jazz album, but it’s built around a vocal delivery that Mr. Douglas describes as ‘uninflected.’ Ms. O’Donovan added: ‘For me to step in and sing pretty simply on top of these gorgeously complex arrangements — it’s like resting on a cloud.”
By jazz album, Chinen means Be Still engages the material creatively and with passion; it's somber in tone, but there's a quiet fire at play throughout, and Douglas's exciting new quintet, featuring tenor saxophonist John Irabagon, pianist Matt Mitchell, bassist Linda Oh, and drummer Rudy Royston, is fully engaged with the music. The set also includes a tribute to the late Paul Motian, the iconoclastic drummer who was a model to Douglas's generation in much the same way the trumpeter is to young players today.
Douglas is on tour in Europe and the U.S. this fall. I plan to see him at the Regattabar in Cambridge on November 15. Meanwhile, tune in to Jazz a la Mode to hear selections from Be Still. Here's a glimpse of the Douglas Quintet and O'Donovan at work in the studio.