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Dom's Duos: Dom Minasi Meets Blaise Siwula, Chris Kelsey, And Hans Tammen

Dan Bilawsky By

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Improvising musicians all pay lip service to the idea of working without a net, but most end up building safety precautions—no matter how slight or subtle they may be—into their work. Dom Minasi, however, isn't one of those musicians. The indefatigable guitarist has no interest in sonic safeguards or insurance. He's a law unto himself, creating music that speaks to his intelligence, fearlessness, and mischievous nature. And while Minasi has been at it for half a century, he shows no sign of slowing down or taking an easy road. These three duo dates, full of mayhem and mirth, confirm Minasi's reputation as one of the great creative guitar artists operating today.

Blaise Siwula and Dom Minasi
The Sunshine Don't Mind My Singing
Nacht Records
2014

The Sunshine Don't Mind Singing is the second duo encounter between Minasi and saxophonist Blaise Siwula, a pair that's been collaborating with one another, in various settings, for nearly two decades. It's a feisty, no-holds-barred session that exists on the balance point between settled and unsettled sounds. Bird noises appear early on ("Bird Mixology"), carrying through and serving as something of an idée fixe, but the music doesn't stay in a single place. Restlessness, dissonance, and uncertainty reign supreme as these two seekers converse and exchange barbed thoughts over the course of this album.

Minasi and Siwula work with extended and extensive technique(s) throughout, but all of it serves as a means to an end. Siwula pops, prods, and peruses the landscapes; Minasi, the proverbial pot stirrer, strums intensely, slides down the strings, creates prickly passages, and beautifully grates and mutilates his axe; and both men work together to create music that's often edgy, never boring, and largely inspired. Trust, honesty, truth, irascibility, wit, tension, dynamism, empathy, and brutality are all part of the package. Minasi and Siwula don't suggest ideas or pussyfoot around things. They go for it, without regret or remorse, and connect at a high level while doing so.

Chris Kelsey and Dom Minasi
Duets: NYC/Woodstock
Tzazz Krytyk
2015

Duets: NYC/Woodstock finds Minasi in the company of another singular saxophone artist—Chris Kelsey. This album, brewing for about a decade in the mind of each man, is the first duo date for Kelsey since he encountered trombonist Steve Swell on Observations (CIMP, 1996). And what a duo date this is. Kelsey manages to be both co-conspirator and foil to Minasi. He brings clarity and focus to the picture via melodic seeds, but none of his gestures are predictable; some of those seeds grow or mutate and others are blown away, never to be developed, seen, or heard from again.

This album proves to be the most listener-friendly of the three dates under discussion here, due in no small part to the way that Kelsey regulates the music. There's lots of ferocious free play and wonky blowing to be found here, but there's also melodic heart in this music. Kelsey brilliantly toys with a motif while projecting puckish charm ("Blues Ultimatum"), plays with a slightly Monk-ish thought before things go awry ("Memories Of Being Very Angry"), and twists and contorts stable ideas ("Say What?). Minasi, every bit as fierce and zany as usual, is capable of engaging in call and response dialogue, delivering brittle rejoinders, and going completely off the rails in a single performance ("Di Dow").

There's beauty in the way these two men occasionally disengage, letting their individual personality traits shine through on their own respective terms, but engagement is more of the norm here. It's plainly evident in the way these two marry the quirky, the angular, the structured, and the free while conjuring thoughts of The Twilight Zone ("Rod Serling"), and it's patently obvious when relatively mellow thoughts lead to intense ideas and wailing passages ("Tip Toe"). Dom Minasi and Chris Kelsey are a simpatico duo if ever there was one.

Dom Minasi and Hans Tammen
Alluvium
Straw2Gold Picture
2014

In calling this album Alluvium, and in creating miniature works with titles like "Silt" and "fluvial," Minasi and guitarist Hans Tammen seem to settle into the idea of sound-as-sediment. It's a striking sonic proposition that's realized through various means—guitar-as-percussion sounds, zither-esque plucks, vocalized passion and fury in sync with guitar statements ("Rapid Erosion"), and a general embrace of turbulence. Minasi and Tammen create sixteen miniature canvases with splattered sounds, aural shards, and scrappy strumming. Queries can lead to cacophony and calculated blends ("Clearwater Flow"), disconcerting and trance-inducing weaves and counterpoint serve as grist for the mill, and flapping sounds are met with skulking gestures.

The music, like silt itself, is dirty and muddy in certain ways, but it's also crystallized and clear in nature. Hearing Minasi and Tammen rummage around and play with and against one another is a visceral experience. They prove to be an uncompromising pair, capable of creating moody soundscapes, sonic oddities, and raw episodes that cut to the bone.

While each one of these dates speaks in different ways, they all help to form a fuller picture of Dom Minasi's artistry. He continues to inspire, creating powerful music that appeals to open ears.

Tracks and Personnel

The Sunshine Don't Mind My Singing

Tracks: Bird Mixology; Upstream Boogie; Ballad For Miss-Begotten; Polka For A Left Footed Frog; The Sunshine Don't Mind My Singing; Sign On The Dotted Line.

Personnel: Blaise Siwula: saxophone, clarinet; Dom Minasi: guitar.

Duets: NYC/Woodstock

Tracks: Fondness & Trepidation; Blues Ultimatum; Memories Of Being Very Angry; Di Dow; That Ain't The Blues; Say What?; Tip Toe; Eruption.

Personnel: Chris Kelsey: soprano saxophone; Dom Minasi: guitar.

Alluvium

Tracks: Alluvium; Sand And Rain; Hurricane; Finger Dance; Broken Promises; Don't Look Back; Whispers From The Heart; Chasing Bulls; Silt; Fluvial; Nervous Erosion; Clearwater Flow; Gemstones; Illuvium; Entrainment Velocity; Rapid Erosion.

Personnel: Dom Minasi: guitar; Hans Tammen: guitar.

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