Dom Minasi String Quartet

Dissonance Makes The Heart Grow Fonder
Konnex KCD 5235

More than 10 years after his re-emergence as a committed improviser, New York-based guitarist Dom Minasi continues to go from triumph to triumph. With his earlier come-back CDs proclaiming his mastery of the small and large group idioms in his own fashion – having fled a major label commercial makeover in the early 1970s – with this band the guitarist tackles the mid-ground between notated and improvised music.

True to the title, the seven tracks, composed and arranged by Minasi, show off the dissonant textures available from violin, cello and bass as much as the complementary licks he pulls from his nylon-string guitar. There shouldn’t be any surprise in this strategy, since the string section consists of equally versatile players.

Besides being part of Minasi’s bands since 2001, bassist Ken Filiano has worked with everyone from trumpeter Dennis González to saxophonist Avram Fefer; cellist Tomas Ulrich has worked in large groups with guitarist Hans Tammen and small bands with saxophonists Ivo Perelman and Fefer; while violinist Jason Kao Hwang may be the busiest fiddler in downtown New York in various ensembles of bassist William Parker, among others, and with his own trans-Asian bands.

Ignoring any hints of exotic Oriental string techniques here, Hwang instead is usually the protagonist of atonality during the majority of these improvisations. If Minasi’s playing strategy encompasses bluesy licks, lyrical chording and percussive twangs than it’s the violinist’s spiccato and/or sul ponticello stopping and angling which define the compositions’ unconventionality. Although Hwang’s very capable of exhibiting elegant lyricism – slipping into the realm of syrupiness occasionally – this tendency is held in check. More-often-than-not then, Hwang’s catgut strains, scrubs and splintering that predominate.

Once the scene has been set, Ulrich weighs in with mid-range sul tasto sweeps, frequently triple or double-stopped and repetitive. These serve in many cases as an echoing chorus to the other two string players’ chromatic progressions. Meanwhile Filiano's bass is the anchor, thumping, bumping and rhythmically walking. Additionally, no matter how divorced from the theme the improvisational interludes become, there always seems to be variations of a turnaround in the penultimate minutes that recap and refer back to the composition’s exposition.

Unprepossessing, Minasi still interjects string sleight-of-hand whenever he can. At certain points it appears as if he’s using banjo-type frailing to advance the piece – a method that hooks him up with tremolo old-time fiddle moves from Hang. At others it’s as if he’s playing slack-tone guitar, using slurred fingering to make his point micro-tonally as the bass and cello unite in impressionistic bowed concordance.

Although a goodly portion of Minasi and his string quartet’s philosophy is expressed in the title tune as guitar frails, contrapuntal fiddle lines and triple-stopping cello shuffles are layered in contrapuntal call-and-response with woody double bass strokes, many of the other pieces are as revealing.

“The Dark Side” for instance, builds up to a cornucopia of polyphonic textures as the string resonations suggest a dramatic, almost horror-movie styled atmosphere. As the timbres echo back-and-forth, harsh string scrubs are moderated by equivalent nimble lyricism. Meantime, thickening polytones from the arco instruments fill in any widening gaps created by the guitarist’s curlicue licks and asides.

Reshaping the structure and definition of string quartet, Minasi demonstrates that it is yet another formation in which he can innovative creatively.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 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 6. Tumorology 7. Zing, Zang, Zoom!

Personnel: Dom Minasi (acoustic guitar); Jason Kao Hwang (violin); Tomas Ulrich (cello) and Ken Filiano (bass)