David Dominique: Ritual
David Dominique

Echoes of other artists run through Ritual, suggesting that the Somerville, MA-based David Dominique absorbed a steady diet of Charles Mingus, Henry Threadgill, John Coltrane, and Sun Ra while growing up and developing as a musician and composer. In fact, the second cut, “Big Boned'd Jim,” could easily pass for a piece by The Lounge Lizards, given the robust sax-driven attack and hard-driving rhythm section as well as the stabs of electric guitar skronk that punctuate the material. But whereas The Lounge Lizards were famously saddled with the “fake jazz” label, no such fate likely awaits Dominique's band when it performs its music with more affection than irony. Even more importantly, while the music of various precursors is audible within Ritual's ten tracks, the album is no pastiche—it would more correct to say the music is informed by the work of others rather than overly derivative of them.

Dominique, a composer, music theorist, and musician whose instrument of choice is the flugabone, is a graduate of New York University and California State University who's composed music in a variety of genres, among them chamber music, jazz, and electroacoustic music. The ensemble he's assembled for the project generates an ear-catching sound, especially when its front line is heavily stacked with woodwinds, specifically alto sax, baritone sax, flute, and clarinet. Rounding out the group are an electric guitarist, violinist, bassist, drummer, and, of course, Dominique himself on the aforementioned flugabone. Electronics are present but used sparingly (though they are conspicuous within “Ritual 2 / Dirge”), resulting in an album whose material imparts an acoustic purity one associates with ‘60s jazz recordings. The album's ten pieces weren't all formally composed for the late-2012 studio session, as some appeared in different configurations (as chamber pieces for different instruments and from within an experimental opera Dominique performed with a street band of thirty musicians at Disney Hall in Los Angeles in 2010, for example) before the recording date.

Following a brief scene-setter (“Ritual 1 / BDB”), the album kicks into gear with “Big Boned'd Jim,” a jazz-styled throwdown that sees the musicians deftly navigating Dominique's multiple tempo changes and alternating between blues-soaked episodes and hypercharged swing. His arranging talents come through most noticeably during the slower pieces, where he puts the contrasting timbres of the instruments—the woodwinds in particular—to good use. Giving prominent lead roles to violin and bass clarinet during “Golden Retriever,” for example, helps make the dirge all the more memorable. A hint of free jazz seeps into “Mooey in Paradise 2” when Brian Walsh indulges in some high-pitched, baritone sax wail, while the horn-heavy piece itself sounds tailor-made for the soundtrack of some ‘60s spy caper. A strong Mingus spirit hovers over “The Mulatto Shuffle” when its bluesy flow likewise experiences tempo shifts in a manner reminiscent of a typical Mingus composition.

Like Threadgill, Dominique has an appetite for through-composed chamber pieces, as well as funeral dirges (see “Ritual 2 / Dirge”). But being through-composed doesn't rule out passion, and the material, especially when the rhythm section lends its blustery attack to it, is anything but genteel. Though Dominique generously cedes the spotlight to his fellow players, “Ritual 4 / Release” gives own ‘bone playing a thorough workout, and the composer doesn't overstay his welcome either, with Ritual clocking in at a mere thirty-six minutes. That he's been able to pack such a wealth of arresting music into its lean frame speaks highly in his favour as well.

February 2014