|Uri Caine and Dave Douglas|
Dave Douglas/Uri Caine Duo
(Howard Assembly Room, Leeds. 3rd May 2014. Review and photo by Kim Macari)
The full house who turned out for trumpeter Dave Douglas and pianist Uri Caine at Howard Assembly Room, their only UK appearance, waited in quiet anticipation to hear how these two internationally renowned improvisers would approach a duo gig. It’s an interesting format to hear jazz musicians perform in. Exposed, risky and with has the potential go in any number of directions, it felt like the perfect setting to hear creative musicians.
The pair opened the concert with a medley of 300 year old North American folk tunes. Gentle and hymn-like, Uri Caine’s lightness of touch and the warm, airy sound produced by Dave Douglas conveyed a sense of reverence – a feeling that returned many times throughout the evening. This was followed by an original of Douglas’s, Ham Fist. Proving that they could switch directions with ease, Douglas introduced the angular melody before being joined by Caine.
Their shared musical sense shone as they caught off-beat hits together, Uri Caine almost acting as an entire rhythm section. These two opening pieces set the tone for the evening; the sets were a mixture of Douglas originals and tunes from the ‘Sacred Harp’ tradition (a type of choral singing which grew out of the Southern states of the USA in the late 1700s). As Douglas explained, the duo wanted to present music that they felt was important and beautiful and to share it with audiences. ‘Inspiration is everywhere’ he said.
The duo feels like a context which encourages ‘true’ improvisation and it was interesting (and rare) to witness two musicians not afraid to pursue different musical ideas simultaneously yet have the sensibility to weave it all together. It requires a lot of mutual trust and both musicians appeared at ease on stage, often ending tunes with a handshake and a smile. Another Sacred Harp tune, Bethel followed and they closed the set with a piece by Douglas, End to End (‘a musical challenge I set myself to write a tune in which each phrase sounds like an ending.’) which showcased both musicians improvising completely unaccompanied.
The highlight of the evening came in the second set. Old Put, another original by Dave Douglas, was introduced with the explanation that it was written after hearing the distant sound of a train passing his home in the country. Caine opened the piece playing so lightly that it was a wonder any sound came out of the piano at all, the minimal introduction certainly evoking the stillness of night. Douglas joined, whistling through the trumpet and blowing warm air through it, adding texture rather than sound. He never played a single note and the piece ended as quietly as it had begun. In that moment, those two men on stage held the entire audience; no-one dared move in case they broke the spell.