Jazz CD Reviews
Dom Minasi String Quartet – Dissonance Makes the Heart Grow Fonder – Konnex
Published on November 23, 2009
Dom Minasi String Quartet – Dissonance Makes the Heart Grow Fonder – Konnex KCD 5235, 57:10 ***1/2:
(Dom Minasi – acoustic nylon-string guitar, producer/ Ken Filiano – contrabass/ Jason Kao Hwang – violin/ Tomas Ulrich – cello)
Guitarist and composer Dom Minasi has an unusual sense of humor, but that in no way diminishes the seriousness of his out-of-the-box fusion of classical and jazz which incorporates through-composed material with improvisation. In truth, Minasi’s whimsical temperament adds a fascinating layer to his modern crossover music, which is displayed on his latest sojourn, the satirically named Dissonance Makes the Heart Grow Fonder.
Minasi is a veteran artist who has been an instructor, composer, performer and musician-for-hire for half a century, but he may be most noted for his 2001 transliteration of Duke Ellington, Takin’ the Duke Out. Or perhaps for his 2004 long-form undertaking, The Vampire’s Revenge, which involved 22 musicians and was based on Anne Rice’s supernatural literature. Now comes Dissonance Makes the Heart Grow Fonder, which has its own somber elements but no overriding narrative or plot.
Minasi’s puckish funny-bone is felt right from the start with the ironically labeled "The Pasadena Two Step," which is neither about the Rose Bowl Parade town nor is in any way or form related to the Western dance – it’s set in 3/4 time. As Minasi states in his liner notes, "I just happened to like the title." It’s an apt opener since the tune demonstrates how Minasi’s string quartet functions cooperatively and as soloists and also illustrates what sets this group apart from other likeminded ensembles. While violinist Jason Kao Hwang and cellist Tomas Ulrich perform separate lines that sometimes overlap and now and then seem to clash, Minasi showcases his imagination with guitar lines that break the rules regarding timbre and tuning, akin to Derek Bailey’s free improvisation. While there are paths along the ten-minute piece which approach jazz, the end result is something that is far from being within one genre.
For anyone who has investigated Minasi’s double album The Vampire’s Revenge, "The Dark Side" might prove familiar, because it was initially offered on that project. Minasi retains the original’s jazzy feel, but provides a contrasting viewpoint with this new arrangement, which gives the piece a fresh perspective. Minasi’s guitar replicates different instruments, even approximating brassy horn. The strings exhibit a film noirish quality, the kind of heightened foreboding that has an existential streak comparable to a Jean-Pierre Melville movie: edgy and not always easy going, but worth paying attention to. Minasi and contrabassist Ken Filiano match harmonies at key moments, creating a doubling that is quite effective against the higher string sounds.
Minasi again turns to his playful side on his tribute to old-fashioned science fiction cinema and olive-skinned aliens on "Green! Green! They’re Green!" The nine-minute cut has an offhand charm that belies the complexity that underlies the entirety. Filiano begins with solo bass, followed by Minasi’s arced guitar strums, then plucked cello and violin enter and doses of discord bloom like nightshade. Visions of curious creatures from outer space with mischievous intent – more Marvin the Martian than Invaders from Mars – bounce through the arrangement.
The title track is fittingly termed, although the song is actually no more nor less dissonant than others in the program. It’s a thoroughly engaging work with several phases to the construction that afford each player room to show his personality and auditory character. Hwang and Ulrich create prickly cacophony, Filiano lays down a feathery melody while Minasi drops out and does not play for a stretch of time. "Slow Dance in the Bottomless Pit" has a similar structure, though here Minasi includes a blues impression through the use of distorted guitar and repetitive chords. Try reading Dante with this on the stereo and you could find the outcome unsettling.
With "Tumorology," Minasi conceptually references personal experience. The tune is a combination of modern classical and galvanized improvisation and is dedicated to Dr. Costantino, who – according to Minasi’s liner notes – removed an unidentifiable growth from Minasi’s nose, a tumor that now resides in a jar and is being studied by experts. This number has a patterned classical/jazz amalgam, with elements of minimalism side by side with jazz-like soloing.
The Dom Minasi String Quartet finishes with a certifiable snap on "Zing, Zang, Zoom!," a quickened creation that is enhanced by Minasi and Filiano’s syncopated and animated contributions and the equally agitato strings, particularly noticeable in the B section and during the improvised areas. Dissonance Makes the Heart Grow Fonder is a conception that necessitates vigilant, recurrent listening: this is not a presentation that is complacent but ultimately merits closer exploration.
Engineer Jon Rosenberg – who has worked on previous Minasi recordings – understands what is necessary to express Minasi’s intentions and requirements. Where distortion is needed a dark resonance is used but when clarity is called for the mix is clear and defined. It takes an exacting sort of studio person to organize the meticulous audio that is essential for the singular music that Minasi writes and achieves and Rosenberg accomplishes the perfect balance of friction and fealty.
1. The Pasadena Two Step
2. The Dark Side
3. Green! Green! They’re Green!
4. Dissonance Makes the Heart Grow Fonder
5. Slow Dance in the Bottomless Pit
7. Zing, Zang, Zoom!
— Doug Simpson