Dominic Duval's String and Brass Ensemble: American Scrapbook (2002)
Just the instrumentation lets you know your ears are in for a unique listening experience. Bassist and leader Dominic Duval has gathered a sextet featuring a string trio of Jason Hwang (violin), Tomas Ulrich (cello), and himself with a horn trio of long-time associate Joe McPhee (playing exclusively cornet), Tom Varner (French horn), and Steve Swell (trombone). There's a cohesive feeling throughout to the release. Other than the exquisite arrangement and interpretation of "Round Midnight", the traditional "Amazing Grace" and the mood-setting opening and closing statements of two quite different takes on "America" (heard at least one too many times in this last year, though assuredly NEVER like this), seven of the eight remaining tracks are collective originals by the String and Brass Ensemble sextet. The very contemplative vibe felt throughout is a result of the balance achieved as each musician takes his turn in soaring, not necessarily soloing, just a thread over the rest of the ensemble. Like a bird flying just ahead of its flock or a team bicyclist leading the pack before gradually retreating back into the body of the group, the process is succesfully repeated in a colorful yet meditative fashion.
A very listenable session, this music is intended for a comfortable sit down between the speakers. The magic created from such collective interplay is usually intended to be captured live, as recordings never seem to do the musicians, let alone the spirit of the music, justice. However, this session captured on disc by CIMP's minimalist operation not only contradicts that theory, it gives further credence to the argument that music was never intended to be categorized. "Jazz" is truly one of the vaguest terms you will come across, and Duval's String and Brass Ensemble have created something which can fit into many music departments. Take it for what it is - something that makes you realize the beauty of truly good music.
This review first appeared in the November 2002 issue of All About Jazz: New York .
Personnel: Dominic Duval (bass), Jason Hwang (violin), Tomas Ulrich (cello), Joe McPhee (cornet), Tom Varner (French horn), and Steve Swell (trombone).