Track By Track: Joe Deninzon Trio - Exuberance

By John A. Wilcox

I'm going to leave the introduction to this track by track to my dear friend Joe Deninzon. Take it away, Joe! "While most people know me as an electric violinist who primarily plays rock and fusion with Stratospheerius and other groups, I have always led a parallel existence playing acoustic jazz in smaller settings. In 2003, I recorded a four-song demo with guitarist Steve Benson and bassist Bob Bowen. The violin-guitar-upright bass trio was an instrumentation that I loved to work with. I was a huge fan of the Mark O�Connor trio with John Burr and Frank Vignola, not to mention the classic groups of Stephane Grappelli. Up to that point, I did not have a recorded representation of my jazz side. We threw down four songs in a 2-hour session, and this demo lead to many performances with this group. In 2004 I went back and recorded more music to expand on what I had, but I kept getting sidetracked with other projects and never released the material commercially. In 2005, John LaBarbera and I were asked to create the soundtrack to the independent film What�s Up Scarlet. The director, Anthony Caldarella wanted to use the song Sun Goes Down from the 2002 album The Adventures of Stratospheerius, but wanted it redone with a female lead vocalist in the style of Sade. We recorded this music. A few years went by with more projects, like my son being born, a new Stratospheerius album, and a songwriting project called �MD� that I released as a 5-song EP. In 2009, I made a new year�s resolution to finish what I start, and so I resolved to complete this album with the jazz trio instrumentation and put it out the following year. We recorded in December of 2009 and January 2010. I�m glad we seized the moment, because our bass player, Bob, who also played in Stratospheerius for 3 years and can be heard playing electric bass on the Headspace album, was hit by a truck in August of 2010 and died on August 29th.
Some of the music from the early demos made it onto this CD and my goal was to make sure the music was cohesive and fit together on one album. The general idea was to have reworked versions of some familiar rock and pop tunes next to original songs that have a similar vibe. The disc is a tribute to our friend and bandmate Bob and features two of his compositions. So far the CD has been received incredibly well and I hope to do another acoustic project in the near future. Here is a little background on each of the tracks..."

Track 1: Bodhisattva
JD: Steely Dan has always been one of my favorite bands. They are able to create songs that are accessible to the average listener and are full of memorable hooks, but also are full of creative harmonies and hip lyrics that musicians can appreciate on a deeper level. Their music speaks to the masses but there is a lot to dig below the surface, which is a quality that all of my favorite artists have in common. A lot of their songs are the blues �in disguise�, meaning that they follow the blues form while utilizing creative turnarounds and chord substitutions. This song is a perfect example and I thought it would be a fun, swinging cover to kick off the album with.

Track 2: Heaven Beside You
JD: One of my goals with this CD and future projects with this band is to shed new light on familiar rock and pop songs, arranging them in a fresh way while avoiding shtick and maintaining the integrity of the song. I listened to Alice in Chains quite a lot in high school and college, and this song always spoke to me and I felt it had the potential to be arranged in a jazz setting with a funky groove and extended solo sections.

Track 3: Nuages
JD: Stephane Grappelli was one of the reasons I started to improvise on the violin in the first place. This is a beautiful song written by his partner Django Reinhardt, the legendary French Gypsy guitarist. I always felt this song was not performed enough and wanted to celebrate the legacy of Stephane and Django, while exposing more people to this beautiful composition.

Track 4: Exuberance In The Face Of Utter Hopelessness And Despair
JD: The title track for our CD was written by our bass player, Bob Bowen. He was tragically killed in a bike accident in Manhattan a few months before the CD�s release. I felt that naming the album after his song would be a proper tribute. The song really captures Bob�s personality. He dealt with a lot of difficult situations in his life, but was always exuberant about playing music. He approached music with the enthusiasm and wonder of a child and his beautiful energy was contagious to the musicians performing on stage with him. This song features some wild unison lines, funky grooves, and a rhythmic modulation going into a collective improvisation with a slowed down swing feel in the middle This is writing that is very characteristic of Bob, incorporating many different rhythms and styles in one song and tying them all together in a creative and fun way.

Track 5: Ellipsis
JD: A song I co-wrote with guitarist/multi-instrumentalist John LaBarbera. In our travels, I would hear him noodling with this main theme and the bridge. I came up with the structure of the song and the form of the solo section. Like in our other collaborations, John would come up with some amazing melody and a spark would go off in me to finish and crystallize the piece.

Track 6: Night Coast
JD: This is a jazz waltz I wrote 10 years ago that I have been performing for a very long time but never bothered to release on a CD. I thought it really fit the vibe on this album.

Track 7: Sun Goes Down
JD: This song first appeared on the 2002 album The Adventures of Stratospheerius, where I performed lead vocals. My friend Luba Dolgopolskaya sang beautifully on this re-working of the song. I co-wrote this song with John LaBarbera . I was on tour in San Francisco, performing with percussionist Alessandra Belloni. John LaBarbera was the guitar player in the group. One day, he was walking around humming the main hook of what later became this song Sun Goes Down On The Lonely Town. The rest of the melody and harmony came to me in a flash. It was just a matter of filling in the blanks. I always believe the best songs are the ones you write very fast and don�t labor over. Sometimes it feels like the song is already there in the atmosphere and it�s just waiting to be written down. Call it divine inspiration. The lyrics were inspired by a conversation I had with an opera singer who moved to New York from a small Mississippi town. He told me that in a big city, even though you are surrounded by people, it can feel like the loneliest place in the world, while in a small community like the one he came from, people tend to stick together. This song was used in the indy film What�s Up Scarlet and was a winner in the jazz category of the John Lennon International Songwriting Contest.

Track 8: Surreptitious Soliloquy
JD: Another composition by Bob Bowen. He was a very intellectual man, always reading books about art, philosophy, and history. The consummate jazz artist, searching for a new way to harmonize a simple melodic line. There is a romanticism to this song and the melodic line reminds me of something Alban Berg would write in the early 20th century. Bob was a big fan of Berg, Stravinsky, and Shostakovich, and here he uses these influences in his jazz writing.

Track 9: Wichita Lineman
JD: Our guitarist, Steve Benson, wrote this arrangement of the Glen Campbell classic. People love this song and we always get an amazing response when we play this version live. One of my personal favorite tracks on the album.

Track 10: The Last Days Of Scorpio
JD: I was talking to a friend of mine asking about his astrological sign and he said he was born in November during �The Last Days Of Scorpio�. I thought it would be a great title for a song. The music was influenced by Horace Silver�s Nica�s Dream. I have many instrumentals I�ve written lying around and the title seemed to fit this song and the song seemed to fit on this album.

Track 11: Chopin Nocturne in Eb
JD: I was playing a wedding with Steve Benson, the guitarist on this album, and we were asked to perform some classical music during the cocktail hour. We thought we would pick out some melodies we were both familiar with and jazz them up on the fly. Some of the ideas worked, some didn�t, but we took it as an opportunity to experiment. This piece felt great as a slow, bluesy waltz and it was a spur of the moment idea. The concept is Frederick Chopin traveling to the Mississippi Delta and hearing the blues for the first time. The idea of shedding new light on familiar music while maintaining the integrity of the music definitely applies here. I love it when someone can cover a classical piece and put it in a jazz, rock, hip-hop, or bluegrass setting without making it sound like a gimmick. This is not easy to do but is a fun challenge. In the words of Spinal Tap, �There is a fine line between clever and stupid.�

Track 12: Jitterbug Waltz
JD: Steve Benson came up with this idea of doing Fat�s Waller�s Jitterbug Waltz in 4/4 time as a samba. It worked like a charm and we performed it in many different situations. It only seemed logical to include it on this album.

Track 13: The Tourist
JD: Radiohead was another band I spent a great deal of time listening to and I haven�t heard a lot of artists covering this song. This is the closing song on their 1996 classic album OK Computer. It has such a simple, beautiful melody and there is definitely room to stretch out and create a dreamy improvisation that builds in intensity. I thought it would be a fitting closer to our album.


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