Dom Minasi: A Matter of Time
“ When I play live, it's like a bomb went off: people with their mouths open and their hair up in the air. I had to learn how to cool it a little. ”
When Dom Minasi steps away from his intense schedule of composing, writing, teaching, recording and performing and pauses long enough to talk and even then the pace doesn't slow: the guitarist's sentences arrive in a relentless, stream-of-conscious barrage, full of names, anecdotes and ideas he seems to dwell on two words above all others: 'in' and 'out.' To Minasi, however, they're not just prepositions. They also double as adjectives.
In jazzspeak, being 'in' or 'out' has nothing to do with the right social clique; it has everything to do with musical time. To be able to play 'out' is a skill that is no less than admirable, because it means a jazz musician is able to maintain the rhythm of the piece while playing across the beat and barlines. Dave Brubeck is likely the most familiar example of one who has found something worth pursuing when it comes to quirky time signatures and being in, out and even further out. Less well known himself (for reasons that should soon be evident), Minasi has made little secret of his own fascination with musical time and the ways he can follow, defy or reinvent it. In 2001, he gave several Ellington charts a highly unconventional treatment on Takin' the Duke Out , transforming "Satin Doll," for example, into a distant harmonic cousin of the original (and a rather skittish one at that). A year later, he brought a new interpretation to four other standards - Monk's "Well, You Needn't" and Johnny Mercer's "Autumn Leaves" among them - alongside several self-penned compositions on Goin' Out Again. As their titles suggest, these albums were 'out' in terms of both spirit and execution.
They were also the confirmation that Minasi, who had returned to the studio after nearly two decades of what his promoter calls "self-imposed exile" for 1999's Finishing Touches , was back for good. Listeners and critics alike greeted the all three of these albums as bold, adventurous, controversial. Minasi was likewise flattered with frequent comparisons to Trane, Cecil Taylor and Eric Dolphy.
"When they talk about guitar players, they don't compare you to [non-guitarists]," says the native New Yorker in his telltale accent. "They were the biggest influences in my life, including Cecil Taylor. My early albums reflect the Cecil thing, but when I was younger, I was fortunate enough to hang out at the original Birdland on 52nd and Broadway. They had a peanut gallery for kids. You could go in and have a Coke and watch the greatest jazz players in the world." While he took in these triple-header all-star sets, carefully amassing the variegated influences that would shape his playing, his parents thought he was at the movies.
Minasi shrugs off any implication that his intent on Finishing Touches was to shock: "I just did what I did and all these reviewers were calling me controversial and daring." Far from being a jaw-dropping comeback, the album was just supposed to be just a one-off, a means of proving to himself that he could do it and to stop friends from nagging him to record. But the response was too positive to ignore. It was so good, in fact, that he thought Finishing Touches merited a follow-up: Takin' the Duke Out.
"I expected The Duke to get killed," he says. "And it didn't." This confession leads (or rockets, considering Minasi's auctioneer's speech) into a historical anecdote about Roman chariot drivers. Upon returning victorious from battle, parading through streets packed with cheering crowds, they invariably had someone stood beside them to keep their egos in check. "Remember, you're just a man," whispered the individuals appointed with the task of humbling into the chariot driver's ear. Minasi says he was never allowed to forget his humility, no matter how favorable the reviews were. "My wife would say, 'Remember, you're just a player,'" he laughs, adding, "Of course, when you read a bad [review], you can really get sucked into it."