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Spotlights [Issue # 13 ]
Dom Minasi & Carol Mennie: Quick Response

By Jason Sklar

At age 60, guitarist-composer-arranger Dom Minasi, continues to explore and expand the boundaries of guitar playing just as he has done for the greater part of the past four decades.

Quick Response is Minasi’s latest release on CDM, the label for which he serves as the Artistic Director, along with singer-wife-partner, Carol Mennie.

Minasi has practiced technique for sure and his reharmonizations are inventive, but the group’s concept can be very difficult to stomach. His torrents of notes are at times supported by a strong rhythmic foundation, and at others, they explore an open washboard space supplied by his band-mates. This is avant-garde, chancy music, taking risks left and right. This is not music for the ill at ease.

Quick Response is one of Minasi’s more accessible recordings. It sings and even settles into some nice swinging pockets. Mark Whitecage’s schmaltzy alto sax playing leaves tone to be desired; nonetheless, Quick Response pushes the envelope far less than some of his more cryptic live recordings. Good news for more tonally inclined audiences, indeed.

In 2001, the trio recorded live at The Knitting Factory in New York. This set comprised the tracks for Takin’ the Duke Out, an album that applies a far out, atonal approach to Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn standards. Needless to say, Minasi’s playing and composition is anything but standard. “I love changing the harmony to standards. That people recognize it, brings a whole new flavor to the tune,” says Minasi. Understanding the artistic risk he was taking, “He thought it would be the end of his career,” says wife Mennie.

Growing up, Minasi spent a lot of time at Birdland. “It was $5 to get in and have a Coke,” recalls Minasi. There, he heard the likes of the Jazz Messengers, Wayne Shorter, the Quincy Jones Big Band, Horace Silver, Chico Hamilton with Johnny Pisano, and many other jazz greats. “I got an incredible education by just sitting there.”

Artistically, Minasi says, “I think like a horn player.” He has been greatly influenced by John Coltrane and Eric Dolphy. “John” and “Waltz for Eric,” two of Minasi’s originals inspired by these reedmen, made their way on to his 2003 release, Time Will Tell.

But stylistically, Minasi’s playing and compositional concepts seem to share much in common with saxophonist Ornette Coleman. Like Coleman, Minasi is not afraid to play out on a limb. Both artists take a tenacious approach to their instruments, vigorously strumming and blowing notes outside the box.

Like writer Virginia Woolf, Dom Minasi’s stream-of-consciousness pummels barrages of thoughts at the audience. While Minasi’s emphasis on deconstruction of the music often drowns the listener in esotericism, his polytonal reharmonizations deny a one-size-fits-all method for playing jazz.

“Everything I play, whether it’s atonal or freeform, is coming from a harmonic point of view,” says Minasi. In so doing, his arrangements are not always the most accessible, but he certainly keeps the curve balls coming. When it comes to recording with his wife, Minasi separates his married life and his musical life. “Carol is not my wife anymore,” says Minasi. “It’s a whole ‘nother ballgame.”

Having made her debut on a recording of Thelonious Monk’s “‘Round Midnight” on Minasi’s Time Will Tell CD, Carol Mennie made her debut as a leader on I’m Not a Sometime Thing (2004). Her vocal presence harnesses Minasi’s playing and offers some transparent arrangements to enjoy Minasi’s dexterity on the guitar without the sharp edges of his more angular avant-garde playing.
At any rate, with Minasi at the helm, expect the unexpected.

Quick Response, I'm Not A Sometime Thing

Quick Response Dom Minasi & Carol Mennie Quick Response, I'm Not A Sometime Thing

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