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After releasing two albums on Blue Note in 1975 — WhenJoanna Loved Me and I Have a Feeling I’ve Been Here Before — guitarist Dom Minasi walked away from the recording industry for 24 years. Since then he has released a deluge of recordings, all done strictly on his own terms for small, independent labels that show him pushing the envelope in far more liberated fashion. Beginning with 1999’s Finishing Touches and continuing with such free-jazz landmarks as 2001’s Takin’ the Duke Out (which horrified many Ellington purists as it won over new converts), 2006’s The Vampire’s Revenge and 2019’s Remembering Cecil, his salute to his personal hero, Cecil Taylor, Minasi has cultivated a highly personal vocabulary while amassing a provocative discography. Minasi’s latest, his 25th as a leader, is a guitar quartet that blends elements of 21st-century composition and wide-open improvisation.
Recorded at home in pre-pandemic times, Eight Hands One Mind (Unseen Rain) finds Dom interacting with fellow guitarists Hans Tammen, Harvey Valdes and Briggan Krauss (more widely known as the longtime alto saxophonist in Steven Bernstein’s Sex Mob). Minasi mentioned that the original guitar quartet included the late guitarist Bern Nix, who passed away right before they went into the studio to record. “I called the final rehearsal and then later found out that he died,” he said. “It was very, very sad. Bern was such a sweet man. He always showed up early, was always was prepared. And I got a chance to really know him during this project. It really was heartbreaking news.”
Minasi sat on the guitar quartet project for six months before recruiting a replacement for Nix. “Hans suggested Briggan Krauss,” he recalled. “I didn’t know he played guitar but he came in totally prepared and did a great job. The way I set it up for any project is I write the music — and I don’t compose on the piano or on the guitar, I write it all in my head then I put it on paper — then I send everybody the scores, their individual parts along with a final MP3 of what their part should sound like at the correct tempo. So when they get here to record, they’re actually ready to do it. Then during the session we decide who’s going to solo first, who’s going to jump in here, who’s going to drop out there…but not how they’re going to solo. It’s a funny process, but it worked.”
Minasi’s new project is as much an outlet for his writing as it is a showcase for his wholly unique approach to his instrument. From the disciplined unisons on the head to “Title One” to the chamber-like quality of “Misguided Heart,” there are clearly through-composed elements throughout Eight Hands One Mind. But in-between those more orchestrated moments are atonal detours into freedomland ranging from dissonance to all-out smash ’n’ scatteration. Tony Rizzi & His Five Guitars Plus Four Plays Charlie Christian this ain’t.
“This is a whole different ballgame,” Dom laughed. “When I had the string quartet (on 2019’s Dissonance Makes the Heart Grow Fonder) we created a sound and I wanted to do the same thing with the guitar quartet. So while there is a swing element on a couple of tunes, the writing is still kind of 21st century, it’s not bebop writing at all. Each piece has its own kind of feel to it, but they do run into one another. It’s like if you're watching a concert of through-composed music nonstop.”
While it may present some moments of “difficult listening,” fans of Fred Frith, Derek Bailey, Hans Reichel and even Sonny Sharrock can appreciate the intensity and call-and-response whirlwinds generated by the four guitarists on Eight Hands One Mind. And for Minasi, who is currently in remission following a bout with cancer during the pandemic, it represents his re-entry back onto the avant-garde scene. “I still have to finish the treatment [chemo and radiation therapy] and I can’t even get vaccinated for Covid until all that is done. To tell you the truth, I thought I was going to die with this one. It’s a very rare, dangerous form of cancer and it scared the hell out of me. But I’m glad to be alive, and I already have three more projects ready to go. One is dedicated to all the doctors who took care of me. I wrote a piece for each of them. Dr. Lederman is my radiologist so I have a piece called ‘Lederman.’ Dr. Costantino is the one who diagnosed my cancer and operated on me. So I have a piece called ‘Costantino.’ And I really like the music that I wrote for this project.”
Two other renegade six-stringers with new recordings: David Lord, Forest Standards Vol. 2 (Big Ego Records) — Wichita, Kansas, guitarist had one of the most provocative releases of 2018 with his moody, mysterious and decidedly trippy jazz trio outing, Forest Standards Vol. 1. His follow-up is more of the same, with the addition of second guitarist Jeff Parker, a renegade six-string icon in his own right. Together they exchange ideas on ethereal, dreamy offerings like “Cloud Ear,” “Blue Morpho” and “Mossy Maze PolyPore,” along with the restful “Epiphyte” and the explosive “Tubifera.” Picture Pat Martino jamming in the woods with James “Blood” Ulmer, both flying high on psilocybin mushrooms.
Scott DuBois, Summer Water (Watertone Music) — This gently entrancing solo guitar offering has DuBois creating fluid, atmospheric pieces like “Into River Fog,” “Summer Light on Rushing River” and the intensely cathartic “Storm Where the River Meets the Sea,” meant to mirror the natural cycle of water. Tons of echo-delay add to the ambiance of this contemplative musical journey.