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On his composition “To Dave Treut,” from his new album, Mask, David Dominique leads his octet on a path so winding it could stagger a honeybee. The piece starts with a jumpy soli section for the reeds, interrupted by brief moments of a rock-rhythm anthem that Frank Zappa might have liked. Eventually, these two themes share the stage in a trance-like dreamscape marked by electronicized screeches from the viola. It’s effective on its own, but all the more so when the following track (“Invisibles”) alters both these themes, then recombines them into the foundation for a blazing guitar solo.
The eclectic nature of Dominique’s approach has hardly gone unnoticed. Virtually every review of his music spins a similar skein of references and influences, and the composer himself cites Mingus, Ellington, Stravinsky and Steve Reich among his touchstones. His octet also embodies variety, featuring four horns but also viola and guitar/electronics. Even his chosen instrument goes by a hybrid name, the “flugabone” (essentially a compact-sized valve trombone). But eclecticism for its own sake can become tedious. More interesting is the way Dominique folds these elements into each other to more deeply explore form and content.
As an example, “To Dave Treut” functions as the first movement in a virtual suite that occupies the middle portion of Mask. Dominique links these four segments with material derived from the first of them — a methodology that implicitly challenges the whole idea of eclecticism. The last segment, “The Yawpee,” manages to cram a vocal yowl, a brashly shimmering guitar chord, and then a muscular melody for the reeds into the first four measures. Dominique’s strong, limber themes pop up even where you wouldn’t expect them. On “Grief,” a mid-tempo piece inspired by several family losses — including his Afro-Caribbean father and Jewish grandmother — he places a vaguely Sephardic theme for horns and voice against a roiling rhythm arrangement. These countervailing forces enhance each other to vividly portray a sense of restless mourning that’s buoyed by memories of the departed.
Mask has more than enough outward bling. Its greater asset lies just below the surface. — Neil Tesser
Featured photo by Joey Wharton.