Nels Cline knows a thing or two. Whether the Wilco guitarist and master improviser had any sort of larger plan in mind when he hooked trumpeter Dave Douglas up with electronic musician Zachary Saginaw is up for debate, but what was initially an impromptu pairing has become a full-blown band—and you can hear that band, High Risk, at the TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival this weekend.
Working with electronics is nothing new to Douglas, but, as he notes on the line from his New York home, “the technology moves so fast that you have to rethink the process every time you do it.”
Within minutes of stepping on-stage with the Detroit-based producer whom EDM fans know simply as Shigeto, the trumpeter realized that he’d found the ideal person to help him reboot his electronic side, which he’d previously explored on his Sanctuary, Freak In, and Keystone albums.
Joined by Jonathan Maron, on electric and Moog basses, and Mark Guiliana on both acoustic and electric drums, the two have made High Risk a truly contemporary improvising quartet, as well as a dance-floor-friendly exploration of sound that, remarkably, avoids every acid-jazz cliché known.
“In this age, you can kind of do anything, and nobody’s shocked anymore,” Douglas says. “So when Shigeto and I got together it was more a conversation about ‘Okay, what do we not want it to be?’
“What very often ends up happening when the technology collides with improvisers is that the technology becomes this immovable object that stays in one place, and the human improvisers on quote-unquote ‘real instruments’ play to the sounds that are emanating from a computer or some other device,” he continues. “And I think that Shigeto came to it with some trepidation because he didn’t want to be that guy. He wants to be in a band, and that really was exciting for me.”
Remarkably, High Risk’s self-titled debut was recorded in a single session. “That was strategic, to really put everybody on the frontline, as it were,” says Douglas. But it’s also a rather misleading statistic. Actually finishing the album took several months’ worth of postproduction, during which Douglas, Shigeto, and sound engineer Geoff Countryman took that first day’s sprawling jams, many exceeding the 20-minute mark, and edited them into seven crisp and relatively succinct statements.
The four musicians were then faced with a challenge that improvisers rarely have to deal with: how to re-create the recording, or at least its salient points, on-stage.
It’s a pop-music strategy, but with a twist. “The difference being that we’re doing this so that we can take the next step with them,” Douglas says. “They’re not static creatures. It’s like, ‘This is the piece that we’ll perform, and this is the basis of how we are going to go up on-stage and just improvise.’ We have these materials.”
The trumpeter will employ a much different approach during his other jazz-festival show. Immediately after High Risk’s Performance Works appearance, Douglas will dash to the Ironworks, where he’ll join local cellist Peggy Lee and Dutch percussion wildman Han Bennink for a set of spontaneous creation.
“Follow me over!” he says, laughing. “I have no idea what we’re going to do, which is funny, because so much planning goes into a High Risk show: there’s the technology, and getting everyone there, and blah blah blah. So now I’m getting all these questions about the trio. ‘Do you guys need to meet and have a rehearsal?’ A rehearsal with Han Bennink? No one’s ever rehearsed that!”
Dave Douglas and High Risk play Performance Works at 7 p.m. on Sunday (June 28). Douglas, Peggy Lee, and Han Bennink play the Ironworks at 9:30 p.m. that same night.