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Takin the Duke Out by Dom Minasi Trio

Jazz writer Howard Mandel once recounted an observation he’d heard from Michael Cuscuna a propos of the loft-jazz scene in 1970’s New York - the surprising realization that it was not simply John Coltrane’s late era spirituality that held dominant sway over the avant-garde movement he helped spawn, but more specifically Eric Dolphy’s extension of it into unprecedentedly personal expressive regions. An incredibly clear proof of what exactly he meant is born out on this latest recording from guitarist Dom Minasi, culled from a live show at New York’s Knitting Factory in April of 2001. Through a set of six of the Duke’s best known and most often recorded standards, Minasi, bassist Ken Filiano and drummer Jackson Krall admirably echo the challenge Dolphy posed to all subsequent jazz generations - know history and then know yourself, and you will find freedom - and use it to craft one of the most memorable discs in recent memory.

In fact, the comparison between Dolphy and Minasi is not altogether off base. After a hiatus of over twenty years from recording, Minasi returned to the medium with a disc on CIMP last year, but Takin’ the Duke Out exhibits the full range of the colossal talent he has been cultivating in the interim. Likely to be the first contact between Minasi and most of jazz’ most recent converts, it rewards the uninitiated with one of those all-too rare moments of "Eureka," like the first discovery of a Mingus, a Monk, or of course a Dolphy. His technique is overwhelming - he has learned from the latter saxophonist's astonishing sense of openness, appropriating the intervallic leaps, rhythmic fragmentation, and sureness of articulation that smother workman-like preparation with a breathtakingly bold personality. The intervals are unconventional, but sit within standard tone structures; the rhythm is (mostly) within meter, but divides and surprises it until the beat wobbles like a drunken sailor; the articulation never falters, tumbling easily back to where it started just when it seems to have finally gone too far. On guitar, comparisons to James "Blood" Ulmer and Bill Frisell come to mind, but only by the notion that they are incomparable and individual: Minasi is unwaveringly Minasi.

On Takin’ the Duke Out, the honorable mention should certainly go to bassist Ken Filiano. His arco solos on "Take the ‘A’ Train" and the closing masterpiece "It Don’t Mean a Thing" should be included among the best of the year, no matter what instrument. What is rare among today’s arco soloists is Filiano’s mixture of absolutely pitch-perfect intonation and precise bowing hand motion alongside an openness of phrasing that is beholden to very few of his predecessors. His staccato is furious, his legato weeps, and he is able to alternate within the space of a few measures. Additionally, it is Filiano’s ability to work at seemingly irremediable cross-purposes behind Minasi’s soloing (witness his triple-time entry halfway through Minasi’s syrup-slow statement of "Don’t Get Around Much") that prods, infuriates, and eventually corrals the latter’s excursions, holding the whole in a dialogue more profound for its careening, caterwauling fragility.

Among the glut of Ellington tributes that followed the centennial a few years back, this new entry stays near the top of the list in propagating that giant’s uncategorizable ethos. If Coltrane shattered harmony with his "sheets of sound," then Minasi is busy here picking it up again and extending it with his "thousand points of light" that simultaneously tickles, taunts, and runs away. There is something downright exhilarating about hearing this music played with such loving abandon, finally reclaiming its vitality in the way only live jazz can; eschewing every comfortable hiding spot in the name of finding all the toughest twists and turns and approaching them headlong - each time with an unexpected somersault, back flip, or fake out. Minasi and company do so over a consistent hour of music, in the process forging one of the finest (re)discoveries of jazz’ young second century.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Dom Minasi Trio
  • CD Title: Takin the Duke Out
  • Genre: Free Jazz / Avante Garde
  • Year Released: 2001
  • Record Label: CDM
  • Rating: Five Stars
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