Review: Omar Domkus “Shades of a Shadow”

Omar Domkus “Shades of a Shadow”

10 Mar, 2011 Mike Roots

Bassist Omar Domkus is a journeyman of sorts, having played in the band Cygnet in the 80′s and then co-founding, performing and recording three albums with punk rockers Scaterd-Few in the 90′s.  Other stops along the way with Scaterd-Few have included backing legendary Bad Brains vocalist HR on a tour in support of his 1990 release, Charge.  A couple of years later, Domkus would play bass on HR’s single “Rock of Enoch.”  For several years, the Phoenix-based musician took a break from performing to spend more time with his wife and their three children.  During this period he gradually returned to playing and writing, but it wasn’t until 2008 that he performed again in public.  After joining with his brother Allan at a San Diego venue for an off-the-cuff exhibition of Scaterd-Few material, he felt the itch to perform once again.  Over the next couple of years, Domkus performed at open mics in the Phoenix area, refining his sound and developing his craft even as he continued to write new material with on his fretless bass.
Shades of a Shadow is the richly varied, yet interconnected trove of songs that make up Omar Domkus’ solo debut album.  Drawing on spiritual inspiration from a Messianic Jewish perspective and themes of social justice, and incorporating elements of jazz, folk, rock and world beat, it’s difficult to pigeonhole, yet quite listenable.  The foreboding “Alarm” sets a serious tone with what sounds like bowed bass, shofar and the occasional trickling of water.  The effect is as inviting as it is ominous, perhaps serving as the clarion call of the watchman.  “Shema,” based on Deuteronomy 6:4, sustains the spiritual theme with chants and simple yet melodic singing.  Musically, the warm, fluid tones of Domkus’ fretless bass along with sparse percussion create the right atmosphere and tapestry for this primal expression of praise.

With the contribution of Ian Baird on percussion, the instrumental “Shades of Shadow” has a mellow Middle Eastern vibe with its snaking bass lines and gentle rhythms.  With the surprising flair of Asian pop, “Tiananmen Square” features the lovely syncopated and harmonized vocals of Trinka.  With lyrics such as, “Crying with the voice of freedom / While the people’s army marches on to enslave their own,” the message here is as relevant today from a global standpoint as it was during the 1989 protests and tragedy that inspired this song.  “Tiananmen Square” offers evidence that rather than insisting his bass be in the spotlight, Domkus is content to be a supportive sideman.

Employing a rather percussive approach to the bass, the fittingly titled “Perceptions in the Mist” features Domkus’ single note lines as well as what sound like chords.  Baird’s sensitive yet lively percussion meshes beautifully with the bassist’s fretless alchemy, highlighted by gorgeous bridge-like passages.  Domkus waxes poetic on the folk rock composition “Little Man,” with its poignant lyrics of observation and contemplation.  Lush organ, strumming guitars, bass, and hand drums provide supple backing for his tender voice.
On “Aishes Chayil” (Hebrew for “woman of valor”), Domkus utilizes texture and harmonics on the bass as he expounds upon Proverbs 31 in this song of blessing and praise for his wife Jenny.  Aside from the title phrase, the rest of the lyrics are in English, and all are sung with heartfelt simplicity.  The peaceful strength and passion of “Aishes Chayil” is augmented nicely by Baird’s austere percussion.  The instrumental, “Baroque,” featuring clarinet played by Domkus’ son Kefa, has a distinctive Hebrew feel, particularly in its introspective opening passages.  Seamlessly, the tempo shifts with African/Brazilian hand drumming, exquisite bass harmonics, and what sounds like kalimba or xylophone.

The brooding “Looking Darkly Through a Mirror” is another vocal piece, accompanied by bass and various percussion instruments.  As Domkus sings, “You judge me, question my integrity / Yet never asking, if this is true of me / So, I’m hoping that you’re listening / That the shadow you saw was never me / My heart aches, that you could see me in this way,” a genuine desire for clarity and reconciliation is conveyed.  Not particularly melodic, “Looking Darkly Through a Mirror” is nonetheless effective.  A fun New Orleans-style Dixieland intro, replete with bleating trumpets courtesy of Scott Stanifer, gives way to progressive jazz in “Rejoice in the Dance.”  Domkus employs vamping chords and funky fills on the bass as Baird’s work on the drum kit is inspired.  Stanifer’s horn arrangements and solos bring a certain brightness to the piece.

“Reflections”, another instrumental collaboration made up of bass and percussion, neither detracts nor adds much to Shades of a Shadow.  Inspired by I Kings 19:1, “Whisper” is a gorgeous prayer piece, enhanced by distinctive bass harmonics and inventive percussion.  The result is deeply meaningful and meditative.  “Beauty and Bands” and “Amy” showcase the natural woody tone of Domkus’ fretless bass and Baird’s creative percussion techniques, but don’t break any new ground.  Both selections possess the pensiveness and frugal arrangements that characterize much of the album, and are certainly listenable and somewhat interesting.  The striking and worshipful “Tehillim,” titled after the Hebrew name for The Book of Psalms, is rich in instrumentation with acoustic guitar, bass, hand drums and shimmering cymbals.  As Domkus sings “Rejoice for He is good / Taste and see that He is good”, the atmosphere created is at once soothing, refreshing and reverent.

With Shades of a Shadow, Omar Domkus splendidly and tastefully takes the fretless bass into various modes of expression and exploration.  Infused with his Messianic faith along with thoughtful social commentary, vocal pieces sit comfortably and suitably among instrumental ones, allowing the messages and music to be fully pondered and enjoyed.

Review by Mike Roots
Rating: 4 Stars (out of 5)