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Dom Minasi: Vampires, Chaos in Time, and Total Control

By Published: July 17, 2006
AAJ: There's an enormous group of musicians on this album: lots of guests in addition to the core band of you, bassist Ken Filiano and drummer Jackson Krall that plays on all the tracks. For all that, there are all sorts of groups playing at any given moment on the record—a cappella individuals, duets, trios, quartets, large ensembles—did you write each piece with the players and the combinations of players in mind?

DM: Each piece was written that way. In fact, there were notes—suggestions for Byron. For example, the letter A would be cello, guitar and trombone. So it was written that way. I hear everything in my head, so when I'm writing, I know exactly what I want.

AAJ: You've used the phrase "chaos in time to describe some of what happens on The Vampire's Revenge. Care to elaborate?

DM: Yeah, there are sections that say "chaos in time. That means that you're going to be able to count four measures—and it's not going to sound like four measures, but it is. Everybody's playing at the same time, and this is where you get chaos: nobody's going to listen to anybody. They're just doing their own thing. But 16 beats later, they're going to hit on the downbeat. It's not easy to do!

AAJ: None of this stuff sounds particularly easy to do.

DM: No, it really isn't. I wanted to challenge myself as a writer and then I wanted guys to come in and bring it to another level. Because a lot of the time, with free music, everybody comes in and plays, they edit it, and then they give the songs titles. I didn't want that. I guess this is a concept album. I never really wanted to do a concept album, but it had to be done this way.

AAJ: You beat me to my question about Byron Olson, the conductor. I think that besides yourself, he's the most important person here. His leading the ensemble freed you up to play at the level of everyone else, and made the transitions so tight as to make me think initially that there were a lot more edits on the pieces than there actually were. I think it's mostly real-time performance.

DM: Yeah, except for that one piece where we had to do Borah and myself separately and Joe McPhee, Paul Smoker and Steve Swell separately. Everything else was real time. And the third-most-important person was Jon Rosenberg. He had to do a lot of work—he'd walk out after an eight-hour day with his head spinning and we'd be laughing about it. It really was an enormous undertaking. My biggest worry was whether, when I had all the pieces down, I had enough for two CDs. But it just worked out perfectly; one is about an hour, and one is a little less than an hour.

AAJ: I want to talk about bassist Ken Filiano and drummer Jackson Krall, who play, as do you, on every single track. They're your working trio and they've played with you for a while now. They're absolutely fantastic on this record. Ken's prominent and noticeable on every single song, whether playing arco or pizzicato.

DM: I depend on Ken. He's like my number-one guy. Ken can read anything and play anything—and when I say "play anything, I mean he can play free, he can play on changes, he can play on changes and make it sound free. Everything I write, he can play, and he can play it arco or pizzi. And Jackson's got this earthy energy, this kind of rumble thing, and I get into that. I love it. It gives me that kick. It's a whole different way of playing.

AAJ: The other person who's really important on this record is you—and on these songs with so much happening, your parts are as interesting as anyone else's, whether you're on one of your electric archtops or on the acoustic 12-string. You're really not sounding like anyone on earth on this album; you've got a sound that's percussive and deeply harmonically information-packed at the same time. Does your playing change depending upon the circumstance and setting?

DM: I think it changes constantly, because I'm constantly listening to what's going on. Even with the trio, it's always changing—if I play a phrase, Ken or Jackson will finish it. It just keeps going around. It's all about the interplay, so our playing constantly changes. To play the way I play, I'm always working on technique to be able to have the chops to be able to keep the energy going; it took me years to be able to do that.

I'm one of these guys who actually believes in playing the gig. When I work with my wife, who's mostly a straight-ahead singer, I play very tonally, very much in time, very straight-ahead. Right down the middle. When I work with DDT, it's a real combination of both tonal and atonal, in time, free, whatever. When it's the trio, we're here to rip—that's what we do. I spent my youth—when I was 14, 15 years old—hanging out in the original Birdland. They had a peanut gallery for kids, so you could spend four, five dollars get in and they always had two bands. I saw Coltrane with Miles; I saw everybody. And these guys played. Man, they created this music and they played hard. I learned that from them, so when I play, I play hard.

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