Dave Douglas: Secular Psalms

The trumpeter leads an unusual fusion of jazz and classical music, so integrated you wouldn't guess its participants were recorded remotely

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Dave Douglas’s latest album reminds us that he’s an incredibly versatile musician, with a very broad range of interests and projects. It recalls the work of British pianist John Law, in bringing together jazz and medieval music.

Commissioned by Handelsbeurs Concert Hall in Ghent, the suite Secular Psalms celebrates the 600th anniversary of the famous altarpiece The Adoration Of The Mystic Lamb by Jan and Hubert van Eyck, in the city’s cathedral of St. Bavo.

It’s a lockdown production; the music was recorded during 2020-21 in the hometowns of the various members of the multi-national band. Vocalist Berlinde Deman, guitarist Frederik Leroux and drummer Lander Gyselinck were recorded in Belgium, pianist and organist Marta Warelis in Amsterdam, and Dave Douglas and Tomeka Reid in the USA. However, I don’t think I’d have worked out that they weren’t playing together.

The compositions are an unusual fusion of jazz and classical music. Douglas has drawn on the music of Guillaume DuFay and the literature of Christine de Pisan, plus the text of the Latin Mass, and most tracks include vocals by Berlinde Deman.

The uptempo but dark and sombre Mercy is a highlight, its words a mix of Psalm 59, Marvin Gaye and Douglas himself. Agnus Dei features texts from the Mass that make for a kind of chant with a pulse. We Believe features pump organ – played by Marta Warelis – and lute, and pump organ reappears on Hermits And Pilgrims. Warelis is a keyboard player I’d not come across before; her new album A Grain Of Earth (Relative Pitch) is excellent.

Secular Psalms is an adventurous, original project. It pushes jazz improvisation into unfamiliar areas, and won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. But it will appeal to adventurous listeners interested in new approaches to repertoire. 

Discography
Arrival; Mercy; We Believe; Agnus Dei; Instrumental Angels; If I’m In Church More Often Now; Hermits And Pilgrims; Righteous Judges; Ah Moon; Edge Of Night (53.09)
Douglas (t, v); Berlinde Deman (serpent, tu, v); Marta Warelis (p, prepared p, pump org); Frederik Leroux (g, lute, elec); Tomeka Reid (clo); Lander Gyselinck (d, elec). Recorded separately by each musician, May 2020-August 2021.
Greenleaf Music CDGRE1090