To regular members of the Jazz fan fraternity/sorority who don't like to pretend it's still 1964 and the Miles Davis Quintet hasn't picked up Wayne Shorter yet (there are such people, and it always struck me that they were akin to those of another generation who drank tea because they liked Arthur Godfrey), here's a solid entry to the modern tradition. The new Dom Minasi CD will not frighten the neighbors, will delight the not-yet-sophisticated ear, and will show off to those in the semi-know that such experimental players as Mark Whitecage 'can really play "in," man.' Square biz.
None of this is a surprise to yours truly, who has followed Minasi's career for about ten years now. What can I say, he doesn't know how to get anything but better. On board this time around are the redoubtable Mr. Whitecage wielding the alto saxophone, percussionist John Bollinger, and Kyle Koehler on the Hammond organ. Now, some of you out there may be thinking back on the golden days of Jimmy Smith or Larry Young and wondering just what is so 'now' about an organ quartet. Wisely Minasi and company put their eggs in two intersecting baskets: the standard quartet structure, only with a guitar instead of a bass, and a classic organ trio plus one. It's a witty hybrid and full of surprises. Minasi, with Koehler's chubby Hammond chording to cushion the arrangements, is free to 'wig,' and 'wig' he does. The wildly 'up' tempos of "What is this Thing Called Love" and "Softly as In A Morning Sunrise" open and close this CD with whirl and flow of a sort that, like Arthur Blythe attempted (and often succeeded) to do a decade and change ago, ask us to see old tunes in new ways. Which is what the first wave of beboppers had in mind, I'd think, until a quarter of a century went by and it seemed the only guy out there who had not beat the catalogue to death or given up on it was Bill Evans. A major and almost scandalous simplification, yeah, but no big deal as Dom can write his own standards: check out the original "For My Father," which has the often volcanic Whitecage peacefully skittering across the chords at an almost Bird-like angle. Lovely. No way to beat it. And I can't say enough about John Bollinger, a percussionist who like all the really great ones, will call attention to the song, not himself. Harder than it sounds. Any good instrumentalist serves the composition first; the question is, once he's through doing that, what do you remember more? On such gems as the title tune I recall the chug-chug beat getting booted around among the band members, Whitecage digging in a la Illinois Jacquet (no, I didn't think even he could get that funky), and a fleet, lightning series of transcendental runs from Minasi. Yes, for those of you who marveled at how Minasi never seemed to even want to try to play faster than he can think, I can tell you that after hearing his blinding break on "Quick Response" he can think and play at any speed he wants. Just incredible. Kudos for Bollinger as well for a drum break I didn't even notice was going on until it was over.
Wes Montgomery fans will kick up their heels at an uptempo, tears-free take of the old Tom Jones weeper "I Who Have Nothing," and the rest of us will snap our fingers raw at Koehler's clipping his bass chords straight out of that paper-thin interval between Miles Davis' "So What" and "Freddie the Freeloader." I thought it was there; I just never was convinced until now. The reins are loosened enough on Whitecage so he can let fly on the slightly Spanish-tinged "Into the Night," and more exquisite balladry is essayed on another Minasi original, "When your Dreams Come True." Cadence, brilliance, good staggering of tempos from track to track, and the CD was released close enough to the end of the year that maybe some of the Jazz scribes will pick it as one of the year's best. I'll lead the way and do that right now.
by Kenneth Egbert
New Sounds - October 2004
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