Dominic Duval

Rules of Engagement, Vol. 1

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The striking feature of the six duo pieces (the last two tracks on the album are solo excursions) is how comfortable Dominic Duval and Mark Whitecage are with one another -- and with the music. Although ostensibly composed by Duval, these pieces appear to be freely improvised, which for these two lions is a deceptively simple task. The superb sound quality captures the depth of the acoustic string bass, its rich, coated tones alternatively crying passionately and shouting for joy. Mark Whitecage follows easily (or so it seems), superimposing a post-modern aesthetic on a style deeply embedded in hard bop. Duval and Whitecage are two of the most experienced and proficient freestyle jazz performers (just listen to the two final solo tracks if you think this is an exaggeration), although you might not know it from their low profiles. Sometimes in a duo, diverse instrumentation helps to avoids monotony, but this one is anything but monotonous. Duval and Whitecage, who blows alto and soprano saxes and clarinet, are far-reaching explorers and close listeners who press parameters with a surprisingly urbane, tasteful sophistication that embraces a range of emotions in a refreshingly undogmatic way. The results range from a distinct set of chamber-like pieces that sometimes burn, and at others wind interminably without ever quite reaching their destination. Those who spend the time to hear the nuances will be amply rewarded. Short on time but long on distinction, this is one to savor. Steven Loewy

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