Joe Deninzon and Stratospheerius: Live Wires
By David Chiu
Joe Deninzon’s virtuosic violin playing adds an elegant grace and down-home spunk to the rest of the musicians’ fusion grooves. On this live album recorded in Erie, Pennsylvania, Deninzon run through several numbers of hot jazz rock, highlighted by some dazzling playing by the members of Stratospheerius (a variation of Stradivarius-get it, Deninzon’a violinist)-guitarist Jake Ezra, bassist Ron Baron, and drummer Luciana Padmore. In additiono to several of his originals, Deninzon’s also does a rip-roaring version of the Simpson’s theme and an acid-funk take on Stevie Wonder’s Contusion. Fusion music may not be everyone’s bag (there is some people out there who revile it), but this album might prove the contrary through the amazing musicianship.
CAUGHT IN THE ACT
By Dave Richards
JOE DENINZON WAS BEYOND PLEASED WHEN RANDY HETHERINGTON SECRETLY RECORDED DENINZON’S WHOLE ERIE SHOW LAST YEAR
He was caught in the act, live. But instead of feeling violated, Joe Deninzon was elated. He never sounded so good.
When Deninzon and his band Stratospheerius played at Forward Hall in April 2003, he was unaware that sound engineer Randy Hetherington recorded the entire show from his Oz-like enclave behind the stage.
“I was so in the moment, I hadn’t noticed he put mics around the amps and drums and spontaneously recorded the set,” Deninzon said in a phone interview. “When we were done, he led me to his secret laboratory behind the stage, where the big studio is, and started playing us the show. I was like,’Wow! This is killing me.”
Deninzon was so pleased with how his jazzy jam-funk band tore it up that night he decided to release it. All but two of “Live Wires” sizzling tracks were recorded at Forward Hall. The artist believes it turned out better because he was unaware he was being recorded.
“The best stuff, I’ve found, comes when you’re completely not self-conscious and letting inspiration fly,” he said. “He captured a moment, which was one of our best shows.”
Others agreed. With “Live Wires,” Deninzon beat out hundreds of acts to wqin the best-jamband category in the fourth Independent Music Awards in January. Judges included Delbert McClinton, Erukah Badu, Victor Wooten, and Loudon Wainright.
“What’s That Thang,” the soaring, supercharged lead-off track, is included on the compilation CD, drawn from 2004 IMA winners.
DENINZON PLAYS ELECTRIC violin, not exactly your standard jam-band instrument. But he wails on it as wildly, furiously, intensely as Hendrix attacked his guitar. He studied classical music as a youth, and still loves it. In fact, his wife, Yulia Ziskel, is first violinist witht eh New York Philharmonic.
“When I teach my students, I encourage them to keep up with classical studies, even if they want to be rock violin players.That’s the foundation of everything,” Deninzon said. “But I was also drawn to rock and roll at an early age and fell in love with it. I felt it was a great way to communicate with people and felt it was something I could do well and I felt free doing it. As much as I enjoy classical, I feel there’s a limitation on how you can express yourself in that medium.
His love for jazz and classical shine through on “Live Wires.” So does a sense of playfulness, evidenced by Stratospheerius interpreting-ahem-Danny Elfman’s theme song from “The Simpsons.”
“It’s a fun thing,” Deninzon said. ‘A lot of people love it, and radio picked it up even more than the other stuff. It’s a song that everyonbe knows. A lot of rock bands cover his music. He’s a great composer.
Deninzon includes that “The Simsons” theme on “Live Wires,” which has put his career into overdrive. It’s earned airplay across the country as well as overseas in Italy, Russia, and other countries. His CD also made the top 20 list for XM Radio’s “Jazz and Beyond.” Chick Corea took the No. 1 spot.
“It’s been a really good year,” Deninzon said. “We found out about the IMA award in January, and we’ve gotten heavy radio promotion all around the country. We’ve gotten into a lot of good festivals over the summer.”
Last Saturday, he played at the massive Riverbend Festival in Chattanooga, Tenn, which also featured Big & Rich, Trace Adkins, Pat Benatar, and others. But he’s happy to return to the scene of the crime-Forward Hall-on Friday.
“I hope it has the same spontaneous, wild feel that we had for the live one,” he said. “I’m excited about the new music we’re putting together, and we’ll be performing some of it in Erie. So we’ll see what happens.”