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Joe Deninzon

Adventures in the Stratospheerius

Review by Gary Hill

Released under the name of Joe Deninzon, this album is by the same group who also record under the band name Stratospheerius. That group is composed of Deninzon, Scott Chasolen, Grisha Alexiev, Rufus Philpot, DJ Big Wiz, and guitarist Alex Skolnick (Attention Deficit, Testament). With this disc they have shown that they can combine quite disparate styles to produce a sound that is all theirs. The group's music includes elements of progressive, fusion, jam rock, and even down-home hoedown Southern rock. While that combination sounds pretty odd on paper, it really makes for an exciting album and a great listening experience. While some may argue that this is not prog, I have included it in the progressive rock section because much of the sound has prog overtones that, at times, rule.

Track by Track Review
What's This Thing
This fast paced, slightly funky fusion instrumental cut has juast a hint of a country flavor. Mostly it's just plain fun. It feels a bit like Jean-Luc Ponty at times and Steve Morse at others. It definitely establishes the fact that these guys came to jam.
Pleasurepain
This one has a bit of that country twang as well. In fact, it is more prevalent here than on the opener. It is the first one to feature vocals. The chorus is quite jazzy and catchy, and overall jazz is the texture of the piece.
Peppermint Patty
A cover of one of the pieces from Vince Guaraldi's Peanut's series, that funk sound is very strong on this cool instrumental jam. This one has an awesome groove to it. It also gets a little bluesy from time to time.
Hind Sight
This one is a bit frantic and unusually timed. It is very much in the new prog tradition. This one smokes at time, and is somehow a bit Kansasish.
Hope Alive
This is a great sedate prog ballad with touches of jazz, mostly in the instrumental break.
Storytime
Welcome to the hoedown. This one starts off quite countrified, then switches mode to a down-home rock and roll sound. The country textures keep recurring, and this is just plain fun. It drops to a sedate prog jam segment for a time, then comes back a bit funky. It feels a bit like White Witch at times.
Sun Goes Down
Neo-classical guitar tones begin this track. It then switches to a jazzy sort of ballad mode. This one really has a classic familiar texture.
Contusion
A Stevie Wonder piece, this one is a very funky instrumental. It is another that comes across a bit like Jean-Luc Ponty.
Ants In The Pants
This instrumental has a definite Frank Zappaish texture and is a killer jam. It jumps to a killer fusion break with a great duel between the guitar and the violin.
Rise
This is a very accessible ballad.
Nefertiti
This instrumental is a Wayne Shorter piece that comes across as one of the most truly progressive rock oriented jams on the CD. Only when the second segment happens does it feel more jazzy and less prog. Still, the two musical styles have always had a budding romance with one another. This killer jam shows the common ground the two have and feels a bit like Traffic at times. It really smokes in the later segments, feeling a bit like King Crimson.
Chunga Changa
This south of the border type jam is good clean fun, and all the guys get plenty of opportunity to show off their chops in this powerful fusion piece. It becomes rather weird and quite dissonant towards the end.
Hidden Track
This piece of weirdness is a series of answering machine messages. While intriguing, I think the disc would have been stronger had they chosen to leave this off.
Napster, LLC
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