On the 2014 Greenleaf Music release Present Joys, trumpeter Dave Douglasand pianist Uri Caine turned selections from the starkly beautiful “Sacred Harp” songbook into jazz-rooted duologues that were, as the New York Times put it, “at once intimate, soulful and irrepressibly buoyant.” An archaic, centuries-old Protestant singing tradition might seem like implausible source material for two of the most important improvisors of their generation, but Douglas and Caine’s penchant for pulling inspiration from all corners of musical and cultural history is well established.
Their lived-in, innate sense of interplay was built in the 1990s and aughts, when Caine was a member of various Douglas-led bands, including his acclaimed quintet. On Devotion, that rapport expands with brilliant input from the hugely influential drummer Andrew Cyrille.
Douglas and Cyrille also have plenty of shared history to tap into. The drummer participated in Douglas’ landmark Metamorphosis performances at Jazz at Lincoln Center in 2017. A decade before that, Cyrille played Don Cherry’s music in Douglas’ Golden Heart Quartet, also featuring JD Allen and Cameron Brown, which toured the U.S. and Europe. In 2008, Cyrille joined Allen, Roy Campbell, William Parker, Hamid Drake, Mixashawn and Henry Grimes in Douglas-helmed performances of Cherry’s Symphony for Improvisers.
“Andrew has presence,” Douglas says. “He’s always fully present in each moment. That’s the thing that he brought to this trio, joining me and Uri, who have played a lot of duo music. I knew Andrew would sense exactly what was needed in each moment. Playing with him is always a great pleasure and a revelation.” Indeed, Cyrille is the ideal rhythmic presence throughout Devotion—surging, skittering and coloring below Douglas and Caine’s lines, which range from folk-like and blues-flecked to fascinatingly abstruse. The session’s atmosphere and attitude can move seamlessly from intimacy to immensity, bringing to mind another of Douglas’ recent projects, his New Sanctuary Trio with guitarist Marc Ribot and drummer-percussionist Susie Ibarra.
In the way of repertoire, Devotion is an act of precisely that, a collection of Douglas originals crafted in homage to a wide swath of worthy deities and places. “Curly” takes its name from Douglas’ favorite Stooge (a.k.a. Jerome Horwitz). “Never forget the levity,” the trumpeter advises. “D’Andrea” and “Francis of Anthony” are for the great Italian pianist and composer Franco D’Andrea—“someone I continue to learn from,” Douglas enthuses. “His book about intervals is quite extraordinary, but playing with him and playing his music opened me up to other ways of organizing and appraising musical events.” “Miljøsang” and “False Allegiances” are nods to pianist-composer (and NEA Jazz Master)Carla Bley, with whom Douglas has toured.
Douglas wrote “Prefontaine” in Eugene, Oregon, where he was able to do some runs in the tragic Olympian’s footsteps. “Pacific,” a dedication to Aine Nakamuraand the Mannes/New School composition class of fall 2017, began as an assignment. “[Nakamura] played an Asian stringed instrument tuned C-F-C, and we wrote within those limitations,” Douglas says. “Those letters became the basis for the title.”
“Rose and Thorn,” for Mary Lou Williams, is the result of another exercise, this one adapted from the author Colum McCann, “to write a descriptive piece about an object or situation, from two divergent perspectives,” Douglas says. “This is the pricklier one.” “We Pray” honors Dizzy Gillespie. The album’s closing title track, a meld of compositions, continues the conversation in Sacred Harp music begun on Present Joys. “I feel that the understanding and insight that Uri and I have into Sacred Harp repertoire has deepened and broadened,” Douglas explains.
“We haven’t talked about it much,” he adds, “but I feel both of us digging deeper into the spiritual sense of the music and allowing for a freer exploration of the extensions.”
In a sense, Douglas argues, Devotion is a tribute to his collaborators as well. “In this trio, I felt that a particular focus and intention were required,” he says. “To play with Uri and Andrew, I needed to go to a particularly reverent space as a trumpeter.”