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Dominic Duval: Follow Your Melody

By Published: October 4, 2010
Working With Cecil Taylor

AAJ: Please tell about your music for String Quartet.

DD: The sSring Quartet happened during my second year with Cecil Taylor. Cecil was doing a series of concerts at the Knitting factory which I was a part of. He handled me a piece of his music and asked to take a look at it. Cecil doesn't write music in the normal way, he has his own language and symbols, which is just his. He once said to me that he needed to develop this new writing technique to better serve his way of playing his compositions. After reading the material for awhile, I think I said: "It looks like you are writing a string quartet here." "Yes that's right," he answered, adding "Do you think you can put together a string quartet that could play this piece?"

Cecil spoke, at this time, about his idea to have Kronos Quartet do the piece. I think I have a recording on tape of Kronos trying to play his composition. I don't feel Kronos and Cecil Taylor were a marriage made in heaven. He was commissioned by Kronos to write the piece for them, but it didn't work out well.

So he had music already written for strings, for the most part. Cecil was planning to add himself as a fifth instrument, recording a string quintet. This excited me, as you can imagine. I did say I would work on the piece. I started looking for string players that I thought could play this music.

The first one to come was Tomas Ulrich
Tomas Ulrich
Tomas Ulrich
, who just happens to be one of the finest cellists that I have had the pleasure of working with. Jason Kao Hwang
Jason Kao Hwang
Jason Kao Hwang
was on the scene for a long time. And I knew his music enough to say that he could do a very good job in the violin chair. Ron Lawrence was the third player that I thought was a really fine violist, and knowing he would love the chance to play with Cecil Taylor.

So I brought this quartet with me into the studio. We did a demo, mostly for Cecil to hear. It was to give him an idea of the variations this string ensemble could produce, especially these particular players. After recording the group, I had it on tape in my car. I drove home from one of the gigs that we did at the Iridium, which was recorded and released [Qu'a Yuba (Cadence, 2000)]. One night during those performances, I drove Cecil home because he was tired.

On the way home I remember saying, "You know Cecil, I did this recording of your string quartet, I would like you to hear it. Let me know what you think of the group for this idea of yours," and so I played it. The first time, after five minutes, he stopped me saying, "Please tell me how you did this?" I said, "I did it with some fundamental ideas of string quartets. I just went from there, improvising." "That's amazing," he said. He asked me to play the whole thing again. It was maybe 30 minutes long. So we sat in front of his house and listened to the whole recording.

"That's the most beautiful thing I've ever heard," was Cecil's reply. It was such honor to hear that from him. "OK, I'll start working on the string quartet tomorrow and let you guys do it," I said. Sadly, he never finished it. And after a couple of months I asked him about the music again. "Cecil<" I said, "I've got this recording, would you mind if I put it out and call the group Cecil Taylor's String Quartet?" His reply was, "No, of course not, go ahead."

I sent it to three or four record companies. Leo Records loved, so he put it out. It was called Navigator, which was a dedication to Cecil Taylor. I used to call Cecil "The Navigator," because no matter how many people were around him, he would be like the lead bird in a flock. He was The Navigator who always knew the way and he got there, musically speaking.

We've done a few records with that group. And that's about all I can say, other than that chamber music has always been one of my favorite to listen to, especially string quartets. I was glad to be able to perform in that particular setting. And making that first record allowed me to do so. I put out a record for CIMP, not so long ago, called Mountain Air (2006), which is a dedication to Cecil's solo record, Air Above Mountains (Enja, 1976)—which is a great record, by the way. A wonderful violinist took Jason's place—Gregory Hubner, a German fellow, excellent.

So, this is the String Quartet story. Navigator was a demo made for Cecil, it was never meant to be released.

Joe McPhee, Jay Rosen, and Trio X

AAJ: One of the biggest subchapters of your recorded musical history is a collaboration with Joe McPhee. How did you meet Joe?

DD: Joe is an easy one. At the time I was working with Mark Whitecage
Mark Whitecage
Mark Whitecage
sax, alto
in a trio. We were doing some very nice music. I had heard some of Joe's music in the past somewhere, but wasn't too familiar with most of his earlier works—his early music was more difficult for me to locate. So I didn't have a lot of information on him.

I was recording for CIMP records with Jay Rosen one summer; Bob Rusch had just recorded a duet with Joe and a violinist, called Inside Out (1996). It was done outdoors, with just Joe on soprano saxophone and violinist David Prentice. That evening, Bob played me a track from that recording. I immediately said, "I want to buy it." While driving home, Jay and I started listening to the whole CD. After that we both looked at each other and said, "We need to play with this guy [Joe McPhee]. I called Bob on my cell phone and asked for Joe McPhee's phone number. Both Jay and I wanted to tell him how much we enjoyed his music. So we get Joe's number and call him from my car.

I said, "You don't know me, my name is Dominic Duval; I really love your recording with David Prentice. Any time you need a bassist please let me know. He said, "But I don't even have a band." "It doesn't matter," I said, "If you want to do a duet or put together a group. I am there for you."

So, I gave him my phone number, and he did call me. It seems he was asked to do a tribute to John Coltrane at the Knitting Factory. Joe asked me if I know a drummer as well. Of course, I had a great drummer who really liked Joe's stuff [Jay Rosen]. And so we went ahead. We did that concert at the Knitting Factory. And it was the first time we got together. It was sometime in 1998.

Our first record, Rapture (Cadence, 1988), was a Trio X release with the wonderful Rosie Hertline. This happened around the time we did our first concert together, maybe one year later. We played together all of '97, before we actually did the trio record. It was prehistory in the life of Trio X. If you listen to Rapture, it is actually a quartet, with Rosy Hertlein on violin. After that we made The Watermelon Suite (CIMP, 1999), and we've been working as a trio ever since. We are friends. It fits together very well. And the music is very, very special.

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