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Lookout For Hope – Jerry Douglas

Sugar Hill Records 3938

Considering that the terms "virtuoso" and "transcends" are typically bandied
about in reviews, the reader must wonder about adequate usage of such terms:
When does an artist actually cross from the musically decent to redefining a
genre or instrument? The question becomes more difficult when an individual
remains locked in a given time period. For example, very few listeners were
aware of Oscar Aleman or Elmore James, until historical interest drew
audiophiles to their respective recordings. Other performers, such as Jimi
Hendrix or Miles Davis, were so patently original that they could not be

With the preceding caveat concluded, and the relevant issue of
transcendentalism avoided, Jerry Douglas could be modernity's Hendrix or
Davis. Given his proficiency on his selected instrument, the dobro, Douglas
deserves the attention awarded to Bela Fleck. Both have created new ways of
playing their chosen instruments, complemented by a willingness to place
their Appalachian instruments in esoteric environments. For example, Bill
Frisell's Nashville (1995) revealed the ease with which Douglas's
slide instrument could augment Frisell's austere soundscapes. The results
were not only awe-inspiring but likely instigated Frisell to make a slide
instrument an integral part of his subsequent jazz/Americana compositions.

Given the Frisell connection, listeners should not be confounded by
Douglas's latest solo endeavor's complex reliance upon texture and sonic
sophistication rather than standard bluegrass concepts. Broaching the
connection fully, the Frisell-penned title track bears a strong resemblance
to pieces from Frissell's latest release, Blues Dream, where the
midnight watchman follows the languid permutations of noir jazz. Featuring
an incessant rhythmic drive from Chris Thile's mandolin and recondite fills
by Trey Anastasio, the track moves slowly, painting, rather than haphazardly
flinging notes. The chief artist, Douglas, bends and bows tones to his
desire, using a single, stark slide to fill eight to ten measures of music.
Eventually, the group reaches a fevered pitch, a crescendo, only to hold
back on the resolution and return to pensive interplay. The simple use of
texture makes Lookout for Hope somewhat gloomy to most listeners,
but the piece represents the finest attribute of Douglas's playing: a
remarkable knowledge of pitch.

In an interview with the Berklee School of Music, bassist Edgar Meyer
proclaimed pitch over all other musical attributes. According to Meyer,
pitch can lead the hands, something rote memorization fails to accomplish.
Considering that both Meyer and Douglas play instruments which necessitate
the need for auditory attention, the similarities should not be surprising.
Performing a strange slide and moving ever-patiently to different notes,
Douglas simulates Meyer's movements of the bow. Equally intriguing, both
Douglas and Meyer have the impeccable ability to add baroque counterpoints
to other soloists performances. Douglas deftly reveals such a talent on the
ten and a half-minute title track, when he selects a reserve role and begins
playing the opposite of Anastasio's smooth filigrees.

The highlight of the album is the succinct "Cave Bop", which melds bluegrass
and jazz into a cohesive whole. Including Jeff Coffin's saxophone and Trey
Anastasio's guitar, the piece seems analogous to most Flecktones'
compositions. As the piece continues, moving from a bluegrass chorus to jazz
verses, the celerity of the track becomes nonplusing, as each player reaches
a new personal acme. Douglas absolutely flies at a torrid pace through the
changes, resulting in Coffin performing one of his finest recorded saxophone
solos; complete with panache and musicality often solely exposed live with
the Flecktones.

When Douglas performs Duane Allman's "Little Martha" and mimics two guitar
parts with a single instrument and a bar in his left hand, the listener will
begin to comprehend his instrumental mastery and relevant transcendence. He
may not be as prevalent or garner the notoriety of his fellow Strength in
Numbers cadre, mainly because of his musically focused reticence. However,
with five Grammys cluttering his mantle and artists as disparate as James
Taylor, Maura O'Connell, Trey Anastasio, Sam Bush, and Stuart Duncan adding
breadth to his melodic ideas, Lookout for Hope should be considered
proof enough.

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