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Interviews

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

By Published: July 17, 2006
AAJ: Let's talk over a few of the tunes—which isn't that easy, because a lot of these songs have multiple sections including composition and improvisation and a lot of different events in one piece. "The Seduction starts the album off and has a very memorable theme that I've been hearing in my head for days. It also has some dazzling 12-string work from you and equally remarkable, effected clarinet playing from Perry Robinson. There's some interesting bass work from Filiano, too.

DM: Yeah, Ken is playing what's called a bass choir, a little effect that sounds like two or three basses at the same time. Ken is one of the few bass players who can do all of that, can use the effects, and still play normally. And you gotta hear him play rock and roll! I'm serious. He's an amazing musician. I told him, "bring the effects. I want the effects on this one. They're on three pieces, because I knew it would work.

The one really comes from the idea of the vampire. How do you become a vampire? Another vampire has to seduce you. So that's where the title came from. As for Perry—I've known Perry for years and years, but we'd never really played together. The first time we played together was here at my house when we had the rehearsal for this piece. But I knew how he played, and I had certain notes on his music that said, "bends, quarter tones, just play it very loose and very free, but when it came to that line [sings the melody], we play it all in unison, and that is the actual seduction—that bluesy thing.

AAJ: "Blood Lust is one of the big ones in terms of players. This one, again, has remarkable compositional elements and the great duo section between you and pianist Borah Bergman that's just scary-fast.

DM: Man [laughing]. You have to be physically and mentally in shape to play with Borah Bergman. He has this thing that comes out and just hits you between the eyes. It's nonstop. He said, "what do you want me to do? I said, "I want you to do your thing. Play fast. So he did it! He put a timer on the piano—he'd asked, "how long do you want it? and I said, "anywhere between four and five minutes. So I think he set it for four minutes or so, and I just put my head down and played. We stopped right on a dime, boom, because I've been playing with Borah for the last two years now.

AAJ: A bunch of people are fantastic on this track—Joe McPhee, Paul Smoker. But violinist Jason Kao Hwang and cellist Tomas Ulrich—Tomas is also in your group DDT—manage to sound like a much larger string section here and elsewhere on this album.

DM: I'm a better string writer than I am a horn writer, because I come from a string place and I love strings. And I love the way Tomas and Jason play. I met Jason when he came into that group MICE as a substitute. This was about 10, 12 years ago. I always knew that someday I needed to play with him because he was so good. So I wrote these specific things for those two to do. Not only does Tomas live in the neighborhood, but we've been friends for 10 years. He was part of the original DDT [Minasi's chamber-jazz guitar/bass/cello trio], we play together all the time, and I know what he can do. He understands what I want. It's so great when you have that mental thing happening. Sometimes you don't even have to say anything; they just know. And Tomas is one of those guys. So is Ken.

AAJ: There's plenty of polyphony all over this record—at least enough of it to be very effective. The songs have sections where various instruments are unleashing parallel solos, which since Albert Ayler has been associated with this thing called "free jazz. But it's also one of the original elements of the first jazz music, a connection made clear on the New Orleans polyphony on "The First Day, a tune on which, by the way, Ken and Jackson are especially fine. Any comments on this one?

DM: I should have named that one "The First Night. It's a tune that was written a few years ago, but I wanted it on the record because I thought it was apropos of what we were doing. I was playing that with the trio for the last year, so those guys were used to it. I had to rearrange it and I rewrote the melody. I'd never written the melody for that tune correctly, the way I wanted it to be, and I finally got it right. You're supposed to imagine it's like the first day, this march, the vampire's walking around, he's observing. And they got it. And the New Orleans sound is perfect for vampires—that's where they're all hanging out in Anne Rice's books.

AAJ: Yeah, that's the whole Anne Rice New Orleans thing. Any favorite songs here? Any you're happiest with?

DM: I'm really, really thrilled with "The First Day. I also love "The Dark Side and "The Vampire's Revenge, so I have three absolute favorites. But I'm really happy with everything. Sometimes I'll sit down when I haven't listened to it in a while, and I'll go, "oh, I like that one better now. There's so much to listen to; I have yet to sit down and listen to the whole thing in one sitting for two hours.


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