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April 2002

Dominic Duval Quintet
Cries and Whispers

Bassist Dominic Duval and his group can be abrasive, but unlike many in the free-jazz orthodoxy it's not a full-time occupation. Scribbly and rumblingly aggressive group improvisation is just one element among many on Cries and Whispers. Duval's group includes violinist Jason Hwang, violin-cellist Tomas Ulrich and reedmen Mark Whitecage and Joe McPhee. This is a group of musicians with plenty of experience playing together.

Being drummerless and with a string trio at its core, Duval's quintet can easily sound like a classical chamber group, and at times they come across as musicians schooled in the lexicon of free jazz happily pumping out modern classical read straight from the staff but performed with frequent and spirited microtonal flourish. The group has no hang-ups about more traditional musical elements either. The ensemble is just as comfortable in soloist/backing harmony arrangements as they are in nonhierarchical sections-McPhee's almost balladlike flugelhorn solo over sonorous strings at the end of "Cries and Whispers I" being a notable example, and perhaps the closest thing to a Joe McPhee with strings project we get. Duval likes to play behind the ensemble as much as he does up front. On "Cries and Whispers IV," Duval duets with McPhee at considerable length, laying out a walking bass line that erupts alongside McPhee's outbursts but easily slips back into steady time.

Overall, Cries and Whispers is not an easy album to listen to, and Duval's advocates already know what they're getting into with this. Nevertheless, Duval and his men modulate this program very well; they pay attention not only to mood, tempo and dynamics, but also to form, structure and development in a way that doesn't retard their improvisational aims but still makes for great and listenable chunks of music.

Originally published in April 2002
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