The band Stratospheerius features Joe Deninzon (vocals, violin, mandolin), Jamie Bishop (bass), Aurelien Budynek (guitars), and Lucianna Padmore (drums). The sound is hard to classify in a genre.It combines modern and classic music in a way that is hard to find. The new album Headspace showcases the style nicely.
by Jon Sobel
There’s so much going on on this CD that it could merit an “Indie Round-Up” column all on its own. Stratospheerius’s music can’t be pegged to one genre, but neither is it a simple hybrid of a couple of styles. For that reason, it’s exciting stuff.
Jazz fusion, Stingpop, progressive rock, classical strains, and jam-band spaceouts take turns running through the ten songs on this, the band’s fourth album. Leader Joe Deninzon’s devilish violin weaves the compositions together, and he lends his throaty vocals to some of the tunes, layering attractive melodies over odd time signatures and dynamic, unpredictable arrangements. Think of a much more adventurous version of the Dave Matthews Band, add Steely Dan precision and prog-rock inventiveness, and you’ll get an inkling. There’s also a Police influence that would be quite evident even without the revved-up cover of “Driven to Tears.” The crack musicians deserve mention individually: drummer Luciana Padmore, bassist Bob Bowen, and guitarist Mack Price.
These songs really do sidestep genre, yet one foot remains in accessible pop territory. “New Material” opens with a Celtic jam that flames into a lightspeed funk-rocker. The song is a funny take on creative inspiration and writer’s block: “I need a death threat deadline panic attack/I need a big bolt of lightning to strike me in the ass/Where’s my material/I need new material.” “Mental Floss” is an exciting odd-time instrumental jam, while “Gutterpunk Blues” begins with a delicate-punk (a new term I just made up) mandolin solo (Deninzon again) which leads into crashing heavy-metal riffage and then devolves into wild electric guitar and drum soloing. The jazz fusion elements come to the fore in the slower instrumental “Yulia,” while the pumped-up klezmer of “Heavy Shtettle Part II: Heavier Shtettle” closes the CD with a blast of technical prowess and ear-candy fun.
An interesting and spirited journey into outrageous creativity, this CD is highly recommended for anyone with an adventurous ear, including fans of fusion, progressive rock, the Police, the Kronos Quartet’s pop experiments and collaborations, and fiery fiddling. Sample the music at the Stratospheerius website and their Myspace page, and read a good interview with Joe Deninzon.
Jon Sobel reviews music and theater on a regular basis for Blogcritics, and occasionally comments on politics, world affairs, and life in New York City. He is also a computer professional, musician, and small-time concert promoter in New York City. (His band, Whisperado, can be criticized at will.)
Hailed as champions of “psychojazz trip funk,” Stratospheerius leap deep into progdom withHeadspace — a smart and satsifying album in which a mandolin-powered instrumental called “Gutterpunk Blues” can straddle a frantic, spot-on cover of The Police’s “Driven to Tears,” and a Jewish heavy metal anthem (“Heavy Shtettle Part II: Heavier Shtettle”) and a solid, fiddle-fueled rocker about a songwriter pissed off because he can’t write a song (“New Material”) book-end a collection of 10 equally fascinating pieces.
Fronted by electric violinist (and guitarist, singer and mandolin man) Joe Deninzon, Stratospheerius veers more heavily from its instrumental past into vocal-based music influenced as much by Bruce Springsteen and Joni Mitchell as Frank Zappa and Bela Fleck, Kansas and The Flower Kings. Hence, these songs tell stories that, coupled with some intense instrumentation that the quartet makes sound way too easy, emerge as substantial pieces of ear candy. And the three instrumentals here improve significantly upon the band’s earlier work.
Despite the unusual shredding (mandolin rules, dude!) and virtuoso aspirations inherent in this music, Headspace resonates with an earthbound freshness that reflects a charming change of direction for a band that’s already established itself as critical darling. The possibilities just became seemingly endless.
1) New Material
2) Old Ghosts
3) Sold Out
4) Today Is Tomorrow
5) Mental Floss
6) Gutterpunk Blues
7) Driven to Tears
9) Long Rd.
10) Heavy Shtettle Part II: Heavier Shtettle
Added: July 12th 2007
Reviewer: Michael Popke
Score: 4 1/2 stars
Stratospheerius – Headspace
In my head, there are times I listen to a piece of music and subdivide the beat, then subdivide the subdivisions, trying to look at rhythms in different ways. I was in that sort of mood listening to this CD. The song Old Ghosts is a good example. Vocal rhythm, bass accents, guitar groove, drum groove, percussion, and violin all dividing the rhythm in their own ways yet united at the same time. A funky one, that tune. Sold Out is full of exciting changes – Jean Luc Ponty and Chick Corea gig with the Dregs is what it reminds me of.
Headspace is a cranker of an album, with Joe Deninzon showing some vocal chops in addition to his Herculean violin skills. Drummer Lucianna Padmore, bassist Bob Bowen, & guitarist Mack Price play baffling beats, power passages, and some sweet grooves. Guest artist Benny Koonyevsky adds great percussion as well – a sort of modern day Morris Pert. A high voltage cover of the Police’s Driven To Tears is a welcome addition to this wonderful jazz / rock / fusion / world disc. A massive energy generator of ideas. I needed this.
ALTERNATIVE & PUNK
Stratospheerius Head Space
Psychojazz mavens Stratospheerius bring their violin influenced jams out in full on their latest release Head Space. Blending their influences into a style all their own, Stratospheerius make music that teeters on becoming its own genre. Part Dave Matthews Band, part modern rock and part classical, Head Space bounces from sound to sound with total ease. The violin playing by veteran Joe Deninzon opens up the dynamic of Stratospheerius with total urgency and takes what may at first seem like normal rock songs to an entirely higher level. However, it is not just the violen that makes Head Space a great experience. The vocal performance of Joe Deninzon is on par with his stringed abilities. This is most apparent on Head Space’s far and away hit track “Today Is Tomorrow.” This track still features Deninzon’s trademark strings, but he holds off on bowing them and instead plucks the strings for the first half of the song. “Today Is Tomorrow” also shows off the bands ability to craft a radio friendly song and one that still operates perfectly within the context of the album.
Opening track New Material is an interesting song to start off Head Space with. The song at first seems very Rocky Grass and a listening that does not penetrate the album may not get passed it if they are not a fan of the genre. However, as Head Space progresses, it reveals the many different sides of Stratospheerius. New Material shows a more roots rock and bluegrass influenced sound, “Old Ghosts” shows off the bands summer fest jam band appeal, and “Today Is Tomorrow” takes the band and puts them right into the best parts of the mainstream. On “Mental Floss,” Deninzon shows how he has earned the nickname the “Jimi Hendrix of violin” as he tears threw a distortion heavy solo that points more in the direction of Guns N Roses’ Slash than Yo Yo Ma. The other effected instruments on “Mental Floss” give Head Space a great push in the psychedelic direction, adding to the long list of the bands genre leaping abilities. Head Space is an exciting experience, taking the listener by the hand and whipping them around an Alice In Wonderland like journey of musical exploration.
Live Wires ÷ Joe Deninzon and Stratospheerius
D-Zone Entertainment, 2004
Originally published October 21, 2004
Classic fusion lives and breathes via Russian-born, classically-trained Joe Deninzon and his amazing band Stratospheerius. Captured blazingly bright live and in the moment on this 10-song live outing, Joe and his magic band bring old music (Jeff Beck, Mahavishnu Orchestra) and new music (fans of the Dave Matthews Band’s most transcendental moments won’t feel lost here) together with a heavenly blend of originals from Deninzon’s two previous studio affairs, Electric/Blue and Adventures of Stratospheerius, covers, and previously unreleased material.
From the latter disc comes the inspiring “Contusion,” the ass-shaking “What’s That Thang” and the aptly-titled Acid Rabbits” (think Jeff Beck’sBlow By Blow), from the former; there’s also Frank Zappa’s “Magic Fingers,” Danny Elfman’s theme from The Simpsons and “Heavy Shtettle,” co-written by ex-Testament guitarist and current jazz ax meister Alex Skolnick (who guests on two tracks here).
While Deninzon’s studio outings served as fine introductions to the New York-based maestro, this little sonic boom captures him unhinged and unencumbered as he leads his fiendishly good mates into strange and bold new worlds that leave now jaw snapped together, no heart beating at anything approaching a normal rate. Sounding more relaxed and confident than ever, Deninzon unleashes the fury on “Shock Therapy,” “The Perfect Storm” and shines in the vocal department on the lovely and amazing “An Evening Nap In The Afternoon.”
As at home in the world of Grappelli and O’Connor as he is in the world of Steve Vai and Jimi Hendrix, Joe Deninzon may very well be our next national violin treasure.