Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Stratospheerius at the Bowery Electric

A few decades ago, when droves of Russians were escaping communism and immigrating to the United States, the myth was that the majority were doctors and musicians. Reversing the stereotype, Joe Deninzon was born in St. Petersburg, Russia, and studied music after landing in America. He grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, and received Bachelor of Arts degrees in Violin Performance and Jazz Violin from Indiana University and a Master of Fine Arts degree in Jazz/Commercial Violin from the Manhattan School of Music. He relocated to New York in 1998, and formed the progressive rock band Stratospheerius in 2001. The band’s fifth and most recent album is 2012’s The Next World…. The band presently is comprised of Deninzon on vocals and violin, with Aurelien Budynek on guitar, Jamie Bishop on bass, Lucianna Padmore on drums.

Violins appear often in contemporary music, but seldom drive a band’s music. Rock bands typically utilize electric guitars for the high range. The Flock, Fairport Convention, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Hot Tuna and the Charlie Daniels Band were among the few bands in the past that regularly featured the violin as a lead instrument. Presently, European folk metal bands including Gojira and Eluveitie are using the violin extensively. Tonight at the Bowery Electric, Stratospheerius demonstrated how the violin can be incorporated in the progressive rock, jazz fusion and jam band genres. The quartet weaved a tapestry of funk and jazz styles with more melodic and progressive rock. The set was filled with funky dance grooves and roaring guitar/violin jams, but they were built around Deninzon’s songs, not on instrumentals. Although all four musicians excelled at their craft, the center of gravity was Deninzon and his Flying-V-shaped violin. He occasionally held it and finger-picked it like a small guitar, but more often he strapped it around his neck and right shoulder and played it with a bow. On the floor, he had a multitude of pedals, allowing him to play the violin through reverberation, wah wah, and countless other sound manipulations. The evening’s music was highly imaginative and innovative.

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