Dom Minasi: A Matter of Time
The negative press, on the rare occasions when it did appear, could hardly discourage him from pushing ahead. As we settle into a new year, Minasi is preparing to release Time Will Tell , his fourth full-length since his return to the recording scene in the late 1990s. Much more accessible and overtly melodic than its immediate predecessors, the record is arguably the guitarist's best to date. It brings together old and new partners in a collaborative effort dubbed DDT+2: Dom, bassist Dominic Duval (who, oddly, does not appear on the album: "DDT played a lot of in and out music," explains Minasi, "but Dominic wanted to play freeform. He moved on, plays with Cecil [Taylor] now and is very happy") and cellist Tomas Ulrich, as well as bassist Ken Filiano and drummer John Bollinger (the last being the +2). There is also a third, 'un-acronymed' collaborator, Dom's wife Carol Mennie, an actress and singer who lends her vocals to the ubiquitous Monk standard ''Round Midnight.' Incidentally, but worth noting for the sake of clarity, the first-name acronym is a habit of Minasi's that crops up as much as the words 'in' and 'out' - viz. his own independent record label CDM (Carol Mennie, Dom Minasi), or the Time Will Tell track "DMP" (Dom, Marco Katz, Peter Weiss, an incarnation of an earlier trio).
Despite its more commercial, non-specialist appeal, the latest album continues in the free and avant-jazz mold. "People around me have told me it's not that in," says Minasi, quickly noting that 'in' and 'out' are not necessarily interchangeable with 'harmony' and 'cacophony.' "I have a lot of friends who are making albums we would call non-accessible. This is a very out album, but it's very accessible even though it's out. It's all free form. Out music can be very accessible." Hinting that the stigma attached to free jazz might derive from something else, he continues, "Some of these guys are making noise. They're not listening to each other. It's not coherent. Everything I play, whether it's atonal or freeform, is coming from a harmonic point of view. I'm always thinking in chord changes. If you're making music, you have to come from that place."
Making music that is to say, collaborative, passionate, enduring music was the overarching concern during the Time Will Tell sessions. Minasi would appear to be the bandleader in name only. As the part-militaristic, part-swinging rendition of the Wayne Shorter chart "Witch Hunt" goes to show, he is content to let Ulrich spend a considerable amount of time in the spotlight. Likewise, the title track, a composition Minasi wrote in the '80s and just receiving its first recorded treatment, highlights Ulrich's skill and delicate, compelling bowing instead of acting as a vehicle for its composer. "These guys, when they play together, they're like an orchestra," says Minasi. "And I'm not gonna use them? It's not about me. It's about the music. This record is about my writing, my arranging. It's about a group sound. And I wanted to do something really different."
For Minasi, doing things differently doesn't just mean doing things differently from everyone else. It also means upping his personal ante. Since distancing himself from Blue Note in the mid-'70s, he has been going about his life and career altogether differently. Those in need of proof can simply examine the flipside or spine of Time Will Tell and take note of the record label.
CDM Records represents an entrepreneurial approach to making jazz albums that proves the support of a rich, powerful benefactor isn't essential to distributing quality music in an attractive package and getting it heard. And it's an approach that developed in direct reaction to the terrible major label experience with Blue Note that drove the young guitarist away from the studio for seventeen years. Of course, one might point out that Blue Note by that time was no longer really Blue Note. The death of the label's founder, Alfred Lion, enabled it to be subsumed by the much larger United Artists. This series of events ultimately led to a company with a resource it didn't know how to correctly appraise. Thus Minasi's two early albums from this period, When Joanna Loved Me (1974) and I Have the Feeling I've Been Here Before (1975), have become a source of amusement, anger and embarrassment for him. He describes the aftermath with typical New York City bluntness: "I had a very sour taste in my mouth. It was the whole experience of the second album - and, actually, the first album too. The first I wasn't happy with, but that was my fault. I used friends."