Dominic Duval and his Trio have just released on Leo Records a CD entitled, EQUINOX.
Although the contrasting strings with a backplane of piano constitutes the centerpiece of this album, the seriousness of the music never yields. The instrumentation only emphasizes the lack of potential for levity, for breathing space.
The question in my mind about this approach is: is this jazz music or is this a new kind of non-notated classical music. The references to contemporary classical modes and even baroque ones are evident.
I have recognized that the musical groups Dominic plays with seem to produce an evenness of sound. This is admirable as well as innovative to some degree. There are a couple of exceptions in this CD, however, which I actually find refreshing ---- "Ladder/up" and "Strange Tools". There are instrumental variations within these two pieces which provide a more dimensional aural surface than exists in the remaining works. Yet, the use of the voices, seemingly a European influence, interrupt the flow of the music instead of increasing it.
Ulrich plays his cello artfully; sometimes, it even sounds like a fiddle. His solo cut has a recognizable tempo. And he definitely reveals his knowledge of his instrument. But I cannot be convinced that he is working in a jazz idiom here, even though he is improvising.
The best cut on EQUINOX is "On Thin Ice". Dominic does some wonderful percussion work. The cymbal swish throughout describes exactly what the title denotes. And the conclusion, as the crack of the cymbal implies, is that the thinness of the ice has given way. Perhaps Dominic is talking about where this CD is going, where he wants it to go, what he wants it to achieve. So does Dominic believe he is successful?
The overall treatment of the piano (Michael Jefry Stevens is listed as the main man for piano) where the singly-played treble notes construct the themes is extremely predictable (as in Watching the River and the title cut). I have heard this kind of piano/string juxtaposing in contemporary classical pieces many times.
Generally speaking, I have trouble with defining what is ground-breaking here. I ask myself if I should even be listening for "ground-breaking" characteristics in the music. Is this CD innovative because it introduces classical techniques and genres in the jazz arena? Isn't more interesting to break seemingly classical note sequences with bebop riffs?
Duval's intentions for the Trio, to render all parts equal, are met most of the time; but, I believe, met to the point of there being too much stability, driving the listener away rather than inviting the listener into the musical space. I appreciate all the intensity that went into this music, yet, intensity can also elicit beauty and I am not embraced by any beauty. The music is too rational, and too conceptual, too cold. The environment is too heavy; I feel like I am in a smoke-filled room. So my questions finally become: is the achievement of total equilibrium in improvised music desirable? Isn't this analogous to asking can there be life in Utopia? Where are the struggles in EQUINOX? Where are the resolutions? Where are the satisfying listening moments? I truly want them. I truly do.