Dave Douglas celebrates 600 years of van Eyck with Secular Psalms
The original inspiration of Dave Douglas Secular psalms was a commission celebrating the 600th anniversary of “The Adoration of the Mystical Lamb” by Jan and Hubert van Eyck, the altarpiece for Saint Bavo’s Cathedral in Ghent. The American trumpeter began background research in 2018. Two years later, key themes and a multinational multi-instrumental band were in place. And then the pandemic hit.
But as the logistics of the lockdown were overcome – it took over a year to record each musician individually in their respective town – new music emerged and the work changed form. Now the improvisations needed to be layered, the beats multitracked, and the project became more universal. The 10-part work comes together, which pays tribute to Douglas’ strength of vision and post-production skills.
The original idea was to capture the painting and its turbulent history in sound, and that remains the core of the music. The opening “Arrival” evokes the soft colors and moist interiors of the tableau’s outer panels with a theme in minor mode and a latticework of sonorous tuba, gritty trumpet and scathing solo guitar by Frederik Leroux. The vocal tracks feature texts taken from the Latin Mass and poems by the 15th-century French poet and contemporary of Van Eyck, Christine de Pisan. “If I’m in Church More Now” is pensive, the mysterious “Ah Moon” floating above electronics and drums in brush strokes. Contemporary flourishes surface on every track.
‘Mercy’ blends Marvin Gaye, Psalm 59 and more – “Mercy, pity me,” sings the album’s Belgian singer and tuba player, Berlinde Deman. The Latin mass is reoriented with an improvised lute, cello and muted trumpet, first on the baroque-tinged “We Believe”, then on “Agnus Dei”, an offbeat waltz.
Three closely themed instrumentals provide additional contrasts in texture, mood and tone. Here, the whistling pump organ played by Marta Warelis supports a resounding cello theme. The Oompah tuba is combined with floating electronics. A slow burn delivers an incisive cello from Chicago-based Tomeka Reid before transitioning to a triumphant trumpet-laden climax. The album ends with “Edge of Night,” a Douglas-penned post-lockdown mix of optimism and lament.
‘Secular psalms‘ is published by Greenleaf; Dave Douglas plays at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival on April 30