Exuberance: Sea of Tranquility [2011]

Exuberance: Sea of Tranquility [2011]

Joe Deninzon Trio: Exuberance

Even listeners familiar with progressive seven-string violinist Joe Deninzon might be surprised when the first two tracks from Exuberance — the latest album to feature his instrumental trio — spill out of their speakers. Steely Dan’s “Bodhisattva” and Alice In Chain’s “Heaven Beside You” subtly echo the originals, but Deninzon, bassist Bob Bowen and guitarist Steve Benson make them their own by embracing the musical nuances of both songs. Sans vocals, these pieces give off pleasures both new and odd. On the other hand, the trio underwhelms with its low-key take on “Wichita Lineman” (which remains a beautiful song, regardless of who performs it and how). There also are covers of “Nuages” by the trio’s major influence Django Reinhardt, as well “The Tourist” by Radiohead and Chopin’s “Nocturne in Eb Op. 9 No. 2.”

Several originals stack up well next to the other artists’ material, with Deninzon’s electric violin dominating, especially on “Surreptitious Soliloquy” and the kinda-sorta title track “Exuberance, in the Face of Utter Anguish and Despair.” “Sun Goes Down,” the album’s only vocal piece, featuring Luba’s singing, was included in the indie film What’s Up, Scarlet? and wouldn’t sound out of a place in a smoky nightclub around 1 a.m.

Exuberance was recorded with all three musicians in one room, playing live with no overdubs or fancy production. You can’t really hear the rawness over the professionalism, but you know it’s there. Sometimes sparse, but always engaging, these 13 songs should please long-time fans of the trio and Deninzon’s rock band Stratospheerius, as well as newcomers.

Track Listing:
1) Bodhisattva
2) Heaven Beside You
3) Nuages
4) Exuberance, the Face of Utter Anguish and Despair
5) Ellipsis
6) Night Coast
7) Sun Goes Down
8) Surreptitious Soliloquy
9) Wichita Lineman
10) The Last Days of Scorpio
11) Chopin Nocturne in Eb Op. 9 No. 2
12) Jitterbug (Used to be a) Waltz
13) The Tourist

Exuberance: Sea of Tranquility [2011]

Headspace: Sea of Tranquility [2007]

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.

Track Listing
1) New Material
2) Old Ghosts
3) Sold Out
4) Today Is Tomorrow
5) Mental Floss
6) Gutterpunk Blues
7) Driven to Tears
8) Yulia
9) Long Rd.
10) Heavy Shtettle Part II: Heavier Shtettle

Added: July 12th 2007
Reviewer: Michael Popke
Score: 4 1/2 stars