Courtesy of Dominic Duval
CHAT WITH DOMINIC DUVAL
Over the last handful of years, it is unlikely a bassist has recorded
more than Dominic Duval. Characterized by his noticeable passion to amplify
the range of the instrument, Duval is in selective company as one of a
handful of bassists to work with Cecil Taylor. His close associations
with Joe McPhee and Mark Whitecage further establish Duval as a commanding
figure. Distinction may be overdue, but Duval (unedited and in his own
words) has earned it.
JUNG: Let's start from the beginning.
DUVAL: I went to an art school and we had a bunch of guys who would hang
out. There were a couple of saxophone players and there was a pianist
and a drummer. We didn't have a bass player and we were always looking
for a bass player and I said I would take a crack at this. There was a
bass at school I would use and it was fun. I enjoyed playing it. It was
new territory and I had an opportunity to still play with my friends.
I didn't have to compete for a saxophone chair. I thought it was the better
How did you receive the invite to play with Cecil Taylor?
DUVAL: To be perfectly honest with you, Fred, my main intention was to
one day play with John Coltrane. That was something that I really wanted
to do. I had seen that group when I was a youngster and I had a vision
of being on stage with people like Trane. I had seen Cecil at a very early
age and it kept me motivated to be the best player that I could be to
play with these giants of contemporary music. My dream was to secure a
job like that. I still would like to play with Sam Rivers. I am about
to play with Bill Dixon. These are my heroes. Cecil is one of my heroes
and has been for many years, musically and for what he has been able to
How did the C.T. String Quartet evolve?
DUVAL: I felt I had won the lottery with Cecil. My admiration of his music
and knowing it as well as I do on a personal level, but it has a new name
first of all. Cecil asked me to change the name of the group. He said
that people were asking him about this quartet and he got tired of answering
questions. So I changed the name of the group to The Pyramid String Quartet.
I was inspired by the pyramids of South America and the Mexican people.
I was going to Mexico quite often with my family. I had so many wonderful
experiences with the local Mexicans that lived in the area, hanging out
with them and playing music with them. I decided to use the pyramids for
a record that we did called Under the Pyramid (Leo). I felt trapped by
the things that came before me and I needed to break free of that and
develop a new language like Cecil has. The C.T. String Quartet was actually
a demo group for Cecil. Early in our relationship, he showed me some string
music he had written and if I could play it. I looked at it and Cecil
has developed his own way of notating music. He asked me if I could come
up with a string group that could play this music and I said that I would
try. I went looking around and I already knew Tomas Ulrich and Jason (Hwang)
was a new edition. I was looking for a viola and Ron Lawrence came highly
recommended. So I put the group together and because I didn't have the
charts because he didn't give me the music was to just go into the studio
for an hour or so and just play down some of these ideas that I had and
some things I could remember that Cecil had expressed to me. He had tried
previously, unsuccessfully, to record something with Kronos. Of course,
Kronos has no idea of what Cecil Taylor is about and Cecil's music is
much more interpretative. So we made this demo tape and I played it for
him one night on the way home from the Irridium. He looked at me and told
me to play it again. I played it again and after the second listening,
he said, "How did you do this?" I said, "I just took some
of your ideas and we created this music. He said, "This is fantastic,"
and that was the last I heard of it for about a year. I asked him if he
would mind if I named the group I his honor and he said that that was
fine. I presented it to Leo Records and he gave me the go ahead on it.
That became The Navigator. That is how the group started.
Over the last few years, you have recorded regularly. With frequency is
the exposure to uniformity.
DUVAL: That is interesting that you put it that way. There are certain
things that I won't do. The things that I will do are based on a variance
of ideas and they are the ideas of the music. The first thing I look for
is to find people that are technically skilled and are able to play at
a certain level. That is the first thing that has to come to pass, that
I trust and respect the people that I am playing with and know that their
individuality and virtuosity on their own instrument will come out. Once
I find people that are individually capable, then I start putting ideas
Drimala Records is issuing a series of duo records, the first, Rules of
Engagement, Vol. 1 featuring Mark Whitecage.
DUVAL: Philip became interested in my music after a record I put out with
Jason Kao Hwang called The Experiment. Mark and I were on a gig together
on a boat and became friends. We got to know each other a little bit and
I decided Mark was one of the finest alto saxophone players that I had
heard. Mark and I have been playing together ever since in different configurations.
DUVAL: I had heard him on a duet record and I called him up and told him
that anytime he wanted to play, to just let me know. He said, "But
I don't even have a group." I said, "If you need a bass player,
here is my number." Six or seven months went by and then I got a
call to do a tribute to John Coltrane at the Knitting Factory. I did a
quartet with him, Joe Giardullo, and Jay Rosen.
And Steve Swell?
DUVAL: I didn't plan on recording three records for Drimala or even presenting
three records to Drimala. I had the Whitecage recording. I getting to
really cherish these duets and I had one of Steve Swell and just done
a thing with Mark Whitecage. I had another recording with Paul Smoker,
but it wasn't mine. It was Paul's. At that time, I sent them three records.
But before I had heard what happened with Drimala, I got a call from Paul
saying that Bob Rusch was putting out the duet. So I said to not pay attention
to the Paul Smoker one because it is already spoken for. Philip called
me and said that he liked both of these and if I would do three of them.
I said I would do one with Joe McPhee of spirituals. Joe and I haven't
recorded that yet.
And the future?
DUVAL: There are a number of things. I have just done a recording with
a vocalist for Bob, Devorah Day. I was introduced to her through Bernard
Stollman. It is coming out in the next couple of months. I am scheduled
to do a recording with Jimmy Halperin. That is coming out. There is another
trio coming out with Dave Taylor. That will be recorded next year on CIMP.
There is a Cecil Taylor documentary and trio recording coming out on Cadence
within a couple of months. There is a wonderful director that has done
a ten year study of Cecil with Cecil's approval. He followed Cecil around
for ten years and put together a documentary on him that is wonderful.
That will be on DVD and will include some of the duet you saw in San Francisco.
With that will be a trio recording that Cecil, myself, and Jackson Krall
that we did in Minneapolis a few years ago. That will come out as part
of that and will be a set. There is a record that I did with Carlos Zingaro,
a violinist from Portugal. That will be out on Clean Feed next year. It
is nice that people care enough about this music to want to know more
about and investigate it. The world has gotten to be a smaller place and
I am able to do a lot of the things that I have wanted to do and I feel
grateful for it.
Fred Jung is the Editor-In-Chief and is Wang Chunging tonight. Comments?