Present Joys: A "warmhearted meeting of minds"

By S. Victor Aaron

Dave Douglas and Uri Caine have both done their share of experimentation in the past but in this meeting of the famed trumpeter and famed pianist, it’s not about a certain musical style but a musical fervor framed around a very old way of notating music for amateurs.

Present Joys (out July 22, 2014 via Greenleaf Records) recasts the shape-note singing traditions that first sprung up in 17th century New England and eventually made its way to the dusty, rural churches of the South. Shape-note songs made it possible for groups of people without any formal musical training to sing four-part harmonies with glorious results.

Such an approach might seem far away from what virtuosic non-singer musicians like Douglas and Caine would be care to indulge themselves with, but the approach has long excited Douglas because he saw the possibilities. He describes it this way: “Shape-note and psalm-tune singing come from early American composers and really hinges on non-academic way of thinking about harmony and making multi-part vocal music. That intrigued me because sometimes what we do as improvisers is to go on instinct and intuition, making stuff that may not always be precisely explainable.” Another way of putting it might be that shape-note singers work from minimal cues; so do advanced jazz musicians.

Read the rest at Something Else!