Album Review: High Risk, Dave Douglas

Dave Douglas’ most recent album is groovy, immersive and satisfying. 7.5/10

High Risk is a difficult album to define. Rooted so firmly as it is in both jazz and electronic traditions, it blurs the lines between influences. And blurring is certainly an appropriate word to use for the album’s fluid sound. Electronic drums, synths and processing provide an industrial landscape over which Douglas floats his dark trumpet sound. For the most part, he avoids using overt electronic processing of the trumpet sound. When effects are used, they really stand out, such as the delay in Tied Together, which decays into a blend of noisy textures, melting together with the synths to create some very interesting tonal combinations. While there is relatively little harmony in the electronic parts as such, which are comprised of layers of sound, much of the music is harmonically rich due to the tonal suggestions in Douglas’ playing.

The opener, Molten Sunset, sets both the mood and a high standard for the rest of album. Its interweaving bass synth and trumpet melodies are reminiscent of the fusion era, perhaps akin to Weather Report or Return to Forever, though the overall effect of the track is more gritty in nature, lacking the complex chord structures of the former.

Groovy and dance-like, Household Item shows off some very tight playing from Maron and Guiliana as they pull the ear around with shifting tempos and rhythms.

Etiquette and First Things both push along at driving tempos. The simplicity of the constant riff in Etiquette allows Douglas to exercise his jazz muscle and he pulls off some impressive chops with swagger and ease. Meanwhile, First Things leans towards the glitchier end of the spectrum. By far the shortest track on the album, it serves as a pleasant interlude between the meatier pieces either side.

High Risk sucks you immediately into its etherial sound world, suggesting something ancient and oppressive. It gathers momentum throughout, cadencing in a cacophony of drums. It’s music that’s best enjoyed at full volume through large headphones in a darkened room. It seems strange that this track wasn’t last on the album with such a powerful ending.

The mood turns to reflective at the beginning of Tied Together, putting the listener in mind perhaps of calm water, but quickly introduces darker shades as Douglas’ pulls the harmony in some unexpected directions.

High Risk closes with the meditative, Cardinals, which seems intended to lure the listener into a trance-like state. It slowly grows a handful of ambient pads into a subtle climax. With this being the last track, it’s a shame that the climax arrives a little too late, leaving the album seeming slightly unfinished. Nonetheless, it concludes an experience which is, overall, very satisfying.

High Risk (2015)
Dave Douglas- Trumpet
Shigeto- Electronics
Jonathan Maron- Electronic Bass, Synth Bass
Mark Guiliana- Acoustic and Electronic Drums

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