Music via electrodes is nothing new to trumpeter Dave Douglas. He’s blended jazz with electronic music before and the results were about as consistently good as anything else he had recorded. Freak In was especially caustic mix, one that rewarded those who took the plunge and punished those who had not kept up on contemporary jazz (my boss, hearing it come out of my work computer, told me that it wasn’t music). High Risk, Douglas’ collaboration with bassist Jonathan Maron, drummer Mark Guiliana, and electronic musician Shigeto, walks closer to the heels of Douglas’s Keystone project. Keystone wasn’t out to shock or confuse anyone. The mix of jazz and electronics were more thorough and Douglas placed an emphasis on an outside narrative such as the silent movies of Fatty Arbuckle. Likewise, High Risk doesn’t risk all the marbles on abrasive sounds, but rather on the tightrope act of making this stuff up on the fly. After some preparatory work, Douglas, Guiliana, Maron, and Shigeto spent one day in the recording studio thrashing out these seven tracks. That’s pretty impressive, even if you do factor in the four months of post-production that followed.
Maron comes from jazz/funksters Groove Collective and Guiliana is currently bouncing from one key figure to another these days, including Donny McCaslin and Brad Mehldau. Zachary Saginaw, aka Shigeto, may appear to be the odd man out here, but he really isn’t. Although he mainly traffics in electronic music, Shigeto developed a taste for jazz early in his life and appears to understand any nuance that modern music can throw his way. That being said, he still felt some trepidation when approaching this appropriately named album: “I was afraid I wasn’t going to add anything worthwhile playing with these bad ass cats!”
In the end, you will agree he was being too hard on himself because Shigeto found a way to work his way into the sounds seamlessly. High Risk is a most thorough mixture of jazz and electronic music because it’s difficult to definitively define it as either. Often, when jazz crosses over to electronic territory, it doesn’t do much to change the music’s foundation. In other words, it comes out sounding like weird jazz — which is fine. But for this quartet, it’s as if that foundation was never there. Dave Douglas has plenty of detractors who will take that sentence down a pejorative road, but what I mean to suggest that High Risk is about as fresh as music can get.
Douglas said he wanted an ensemble that “respected the process of both sides.” Those aren’t just words from someone patting themselves on the back for their own open-mindedness, that’s a distillation of High Risk. As Douglas’s horn snakes through the Shigeto’s patterns on “Molten Sunset”, it casts a new die. As Shigeto processes/mangles Douglas’s horn line in “Tied Together” and slaps it upward to a 50-foot ceiling, a monster is born. Where one influence ends and another one begins is a mystery, and that’s what will guarantee High Risk‘s status as a wholly unique album. With any justice, it will also serve as a template for future electro-jazz.