Sometimes a mask is as revealing as what lies beneath.
Written over eight years, Mask, the new Orenda Records release from composer, bandleader and brass player David Dominique, bounds between styles, strategies, attitudes and textures. Somehow, the project furthers the language Dominique developed on his enthralling 2013 album, Ritual, while offering a perpetual sense of surprise.
Mask’s aesthetic is one of upheaval, and rightfully so. During the period in which he composed this music, Dominique, a Ph.D. with a thriving academic career, moved across the U.S. three times. He also endured tremendous loss, with his Afro-Caribbean father and Jewish grandmother and uncle passing away within a span of 18 months. A cycle of grief followed, during which Dominique grasped at the fractured pieces of his personal and family history, in hopes of reassembling them into a cohesive identity.
That’s the process in play throughout Mask: an artist in the midst of profound, sometimes painful change, inhabiting and discarding one stylistic or cultural veil after another. The music feels like a surrealistic, stream-of-consciousness dreamscape where any part of Dominique’s imagination or memory can suddenly emerge in full color, without warning or musical transition. While often rollicking and joyous on the surface, these sonic collages are the composer’s attempt to heal his inner strife—a continuing catharsis rooted not only in the feeling of loss but in Dominique’s lifelong effort to communicate through multiple heritages.
In the end, however, Mask’s seemingly incompatible parts are embraced and normalized into a fluid listening experience that remains compelling even when the music’s backstory goes untold. A multi-hyphenate artist with wide-ranging tastes and curiosities, Dominique’s inside-outside take on the avant-garde is as entertaining as it is cerebral, with points of entry for those coming from jazz, the rock underground or the contemporary classical scene.
The brilliantly raucous small-group music of Charles Mingus with Eric Dolphy might be a good touchstone - Dominique names Mingus at Antibes as an all-time favorite - but there’s so much more in the mix, built up and then refracted in cubist fashion. “Licks and rhythms are reimagined and warped from multiple perspectives, techniques I’ve learned from Stravinsky - especially the ballet Petrushka,” Dominique writes. “In many of these cases, a particular lick or groove is repeated obsessively, in the mode of American minimalists like Steve Reich - in my case representing fixation on a particular thought and the return to that thought again and again.” He has immersed himself in the art of two renowned Austrian composers, and throughout Mask you can hear the sharp experimentalism of Beat Furrer as well as the electronic and avant-rock leanings of Bernhard Lang.
Joining Dominique is a powerful cast of collaborators up to the tasks set by his visionary music. Shaping potent, direct sound and performances as the album’s producer is jazz trumpet great Nolan Shaheed, a former lead player for the Count Basie Orchestra who’s also shared stages and studios with Miles Davis, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Freddie Hubbard, Jimmy Smith, Phil Collins, David Byrne, Tom Waits and others. Dominique’s cohorts include some of Los Angeles’ brightest rising musicians, all of them sharing his love for composing and his stylistic wanderlust. In addition to Dominique on his trademark flugabone, a compressed valve trombone most often used in marching bands, Mask features Brian Walsh (tenor saxophone, clarinets, co-producer); Joe Santa Maria (alto saxophone, flute); Sam Robles (alto and baritone saxophones); Lauren Baba (viola); Alexander Noice (guitar and electronics); Michael Alvidrez (basses); and Andrew Lessman (drums and drumKAT). Their credits cover a vast range of forward-looking artists, including Eugene Chadbourne, Vampire Weekend, Solange, Niia, Vinny Golia and Wadada Leo Smith.
Raised in New York City and Long Island, Dominique lived on and off in Los Angeles for a decade, and his time in daring L.A. ensembles like Killsonic proved a robust influence on his current music. He is now based in Richmond, Virginia, and works as a professor of music composition and theory at the College of William & Mary, in Williamsburg. In 2013 he conducted his score for Starcrosser’s Cut, Joseph Tepperman’s innovative theatre piece about the disgraced astronaut Lisa Nowak. “The musical composition by David Dominique never merely backs or underscores the action,” the Hollywood Reporter said, “but instead comprises an integral component of the overall expression.” Dominique garnered equally effusive praise for his Ritual album, a striking showcase for his ingenious blend of divergent sounds, evoking everything from Mingus and Ellington to Ligeti and Furrer and on to Blonde Redhead and Flying Lotus. “A maximalist inspired by minimalists, composer David Dominique practices a rowdy, muscular brand of modernism. Picture Charles Mingus staging a hostile takeover of the Sun Ra Arkestra with arrangements by Sonic Youth,” DownBeat said. “Dominique’s band teeters on the fulcrum where discipline crumbles into anarchy.”
Dominique will tour with an octet in support of Mask this fall, hitting Brooklyn, Washington, D.C., Baltimore, the Philadelphia area and three cities in Virginia: Richmond, Charlottesville and Williamsburg. He will direct the ensemble and play flugabone, and the band will feature cornetist Victor Haskins, the director of the Kennedy Center’s Jazz Outreach Program, and Ian McColm, acclaimed DC-based drummer and composer. Dominique will be available for pre-show lectures and discussions, as well as workshops and masterclasses.
11/9: Williamsburg, VA, College of William & Mary, Ewell Hall
11/10: Richmond, VA, Little Dumbo
11/11: Charlottesville, VA, Charlottesville Jazz Society
11/13: Westchester University (outside Philadelphia)
11/15: New York, NY, Nublu Classic
11/16: Baltimore, MD, Joe Squared
11/17: Washington DC, Rhizome