By Ammar Kalia | Published June 2022
Viewing the Ghent Altarpiece by the 15th Century Flemish painters Hubert and Jan Van Eyck is an all-encompassing experience. Its 12 panels, each depicting in crisp and complicated detail the Holy Trinity, Biblical angels and Adam and Eve, surround the viewer in their rich, emotive intricacies.
It is a mammoth work, and responding to the 600th anniversary of its creation in musical form seems an equally mammoth task. Such is the endeavor undertaken by trumpeter Dave Douglas on Secular Psalms, a brave concept that produces mixed results.
Combining the verse of Latin Mass with early medieval folk songs, electronic manipulations and improvised instrumentation, Secular Psalms takes a postmodernist approach of freewheeling influences. Douglas finds his strengths most clearly when focusing on instrumental mood music, such as on the ambient meditation of opener “Arrival,” where Douglas’ serpentine, high-register trumpet melody intertwines with the rhythmic consistency of Berlinde Deman’s tuba. “Edge Of Night,” meanwhile, artfully pairs Deman’s rich tenor with the distorted low-end bowing of Tomeka Reid’s cello to create the nocturnal atmosphere of its title.
Elements of the Latin Mass also fare well within Douglas’ new context. The polyrhythmic propulsion of “Agnus Dei” is a jarringly intriguing setting for Deman’s choral vocalizations, while “We Believe” creates a swooping, cinematic sense of grandeur.
Secular Psalms: Arrival; Mercy; We Believe; Agnus Dei; Instrumental Angels; If I’m In Church More Often Now; Hermits and Pilgrims; Righteous Judges; Ah Moon; Edge Of Night. (53.07)
Personnel: Dave Douglas, trumpet, voice; Berlinde Deman, serpent, tuba, voice; Marta Warelis, piano, prepared piano, pump organ; Frederik Leroux, guitars, lute, electronics; Tomeka Reid, cello; Lander Gyselinck, drums, electronics.
Ordering Info: davedouglas.bandcamp.com