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Topic: Dennis ReaPosted By: toroddfuglesteg
Subject: Dennis Rea
Date Posted: November 26 2010 at 14:41
Dennis Rea is one of the better jazz guitarists around now. He is also an excellent writer and a music even organizer. His new album Views from Chicheng Precipice has been described as one of the most beautiful albums from this decade.
Besides of his solo career, he is also involved in bands like http://www.progarchives.com/artist.asp?id=5377 - and http://www.progarchives.com/artist.asp?id=5026 - .
I got in touch with him through MoonJune Records and here is his story.
To start with, what motivated you to start with music?
grew up in the 1960s, and though I was too young to take an active role
in the pivotal events of that decade, I was keenly aware of what was
going on around me and drew inspiration from many of the tectonic
cultural transformations of the era, including the uncommonly
imaginative music of the psychedelic era. Perhaps surprisingly given my
later musical output, my initial inspiration for taking up the guitar
was Mike Nesmith of The Monkees. But I also discovered an affinity for
‘strange’ music at an early age via exposure to the likes of John Cage,
Lee Hazlewood’s “cowboy psychedelia,” and especially György Ligeti’s
music on the 2001 soundtrack, which shook me to the core.
a teenager I embraced the usual classic rock standard bearers such as
Hendrix, The Who, and Led Zeppelin. My first informal high-school band
played Allman Brothers and Grateful Dead covers. But hearing In the Court of the Crimson King and Pink Floyd’s Ummagumma
around 1971 really spun my weathervane around, and I soon became a
fervent devotee of the emerging progressive rock phenomenon. I still
love early to mid-period Crimson and Floyd to this day; other formative
influences from that period include Soft Machine and Gentle Giant, while
other early prog favorites haven’t aged as well to my ears.
By the mid-70s I had made the logical leap to early jazz-rock fusion after being exposed to Miles Davis’s Bitches Brew, Mahavishnu, Miroslav Vitous–era
Weather Report, Oregon, Ars Nova (the U.S. band), Larry Coryell, and
similar artists. Around the same time I took an interest in free jazz
and European free improvisation, the former through hearing the likes of
John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman, the latter through discovering
players like Keith Tippett and Elton Dean who were in the Softs and
Crimson orbit, as well as Derek Bailey and Evan Parker’s Music
Improvisation Company. I also developed a taste for the pioneering
electronic music of figures such as Karlheinz Stockhausen and Luciano
1972 or ’73 I formed a progressive rock trio named Zuir in my hometown
of Utica, New York. We were completely out of step with the prevailing
musical tastes in our area – mostly what I term “Budweiser rock” – and
hence rarely performed in public, and then usually at self-staged
events. In 1975 we pooled our money, bought a beat-up truck, and drove
out to Seattle to try our luck there, but we found the Pacific Northwest
even less receptive to progressive music than Utica had been and
eventually ended up back in New York State, where the band drifted apart
for lack of opportunities.
move to some of your projects and albums. I have to be very selective
to avoid this ending up as a big book (which you or someone else should
write and release). Let's start with Earthstar and the three albums you
released with them. What are your recollections of these three albums
and this band?
was the brainchild of a childhood friend from Utica, Craig Wuest, who
was among the first people in our hometown to delve into synthesizers
and other electronic keyboards. Craig was the first person I knew who
was hip to all of the groundbreaking kosmische music
then flowing out of Germany – this was around 1973-74 – and was
particularly enamored of Klaus Schulze, with whom he struck up a
correspondence. Craig started out performing solo on an array of
keyboards and then started inviting simpatico musicians in Utica to
contribute. The first Earthstar LP, Salterbarty Tales, was recorded in 1977 in Utica and included my first appearance on record.
Schulze’s encouragement, Craig soon decamped to Hambühren, Germany,
where he was welcomed into Klaus’ world and promised a deal with
Schulze’s brand-new Innovative Communications (IC) label. Although the
anticipated IC release never actually materialized, subsequent Earthstar
LPs were released by Germany’s Sky Records, one of the flagship e-musik
labels of the time, though Craig continued to have a supportive mentor
relationship with Klaus. In 1979 Craig invited me and two other Utica
musicians to join him in Germany to work on a third Earthstar LP as full
partners. But the band was undergoing something of an identity crisis
at the time, and the resulting session veered wildly from orchestral
minimalism to ECM-influenced chamber jazz to even a vocal pop tune.
Taken as a whole, the tracks were deemed to have too fragmented a
personality for Sky to release, so most of that material has yet to see
the light of day. A couple of tracks did end up on the next Sky release,
Atomkraft? Nein, Danke!, which was my final appearance
on an Earthstar LP. Craig went on to make another release with a
different lineup before the project eventually dissolved after he
returned to the States.
the time, we were a bit overawed to find ourselves working alongside
some of the legendary figures of German electronic music, and I feel
privileged to have been part of the only U.S. band to have participated,
however peripherally, in the German kosmische music scene of the day. Some of the music still holds up well today, some of it less so.
to Stackpole and the album of the same title from 2001. How would you
describe this album and are there any plans to do more albums under this
Stackpole quartet – with saxophonist Wally Shoup, acoustic bassist
Geoff Harper, and Northwest drum legend Gregg Keplinger – came about as a
result of my being invited to perform in a short-lived experimental
music festival in Seattle in the late 1990s. At that time I was very
heavily involved in free improvisation, both as a player and as a
co-director of the long-running Seattle Improvised Music Festival (25
years and counting), so I cherry-picked some of my favorite local
players for what I expected to be a one-time performance of spontaneous
music shaded toward jazz. The gig went very well, so we decided to
continue the project when further performance opportunities arose. One
of these was a live radio broadcast, which in its unexpurgated form
became the Stackpole CD. With Stackpole, I was looking
to marry a muscular jazz rhythm section with high-octane free
improvisation and my latest bag of woolly guitar sounds. We played about
a half-dozen shows before the project lost its centrifugal force and
the members dispersed to their primary involvements. But it represented a
mode of music-making that I still pursue with gusto today, if less
frequently than before.
move to an album featured in ProgArchives and which the members here
should really know more about: Moraine and its excellent album Manifest Density
from last year. How wrong am I when I would say this album is a meeting
of minds between Beijing, wherever Robert Fripp lives, and Canterbury,
and how would you describe this album? Are there any plans to do more
say that’s a reasonably accurate description of my own leanings, but
not so much for Moraine, as the band is a collaborative effort and the
other members have little or no background in progressive rock as it’s
usually defined. For that matter, we never termed ourselves a ‘prog’
band, but only inherited that tag after we released our CD on MoonJune
Records, with its many prog associations. Perhaps a more apt description
would be “heavy chamber music.”
Crimson is certainly an influence, but my own favorite period of KC was Lizard and Islands,
which sound nothing like Moraine. I suppose where the two bands share
common ground is in the use of angular, sinister-sounding riffs on some
of our tunes, but it doesn’t go much further than that. Fripp was a very
important influence on me during my formative years as a guitarist, but
I’ve grown further and further away from him over the years, and have
frankly wearied of his pompous, messianic pronouncements and the
increasing rigidity of his music – I greatly preferred the unpredictable
explosions of the early years.
for Canterbury, I don’t really hear that influence in Moraine, unless
it’s in some of our more ornate melodies, and again, I don’t think my
bandmates have had much exposure to the Canterbury oeuvre – RIO, maybe.
My own interest in Canterbury centers largely on Soft Machine and
Matching Mole, and Gong if they qualify as Canterbury. Since keyboards
dominated the Canterbury sound and Moraine lacks keyboards altogether, I
think it’s a stretch to draw any parallels. I’d say that, in my own
case, various artists who record for the ECM label – Terje Rypdal Ralph
Towner, John Abercrombie – are probably my biggest influences.
number of reviewers have commented on a perceived Chinese influence in
Moraine’s music, but I think that’s mostly inferred from the fact of my
having lived and performed there, rather than any substantive musical
evidence. Interestingly, though Moraine does play some adapted Chinese
material live, none of it appears on Manifest Density. Still, I suppose that it’s influenced me so deeply that it unconsciously leaks out from time to time in my playing.
aside, Moraine is my most satisfying project to date as it gives me an
opportunity to deploy both my compositional and playing skills in a
wide-ranging jazz-rock context while granting my extremely talented
bandmates full freedom to express themselves – everyone is free to
contribute their own compositions to the mix. In general we prefer to
make concise, economical musical statements rather than working with
longer forms, though some symphonic progsters have taken us to task for
now Moraine is preparing a batch of new material for our next MoonJune
release (to be produced by Steve Fisk), which will be paired with an
audio CD of our NEARfest performance. The record will appear sometime in
2011. It’s high time that we put something out there that reflects the
current lineup, with James DeJoie’s woodwinds and Stephen Cavit’s
drumming replacing departed cellist Ruth Davidson and drummer Jay
Jaskot, respectively. Moraine continues to gig around the Seattle area
and will be doing a short Northeast U.S. tour in April, with dates at
Baltimore’s Orion Studios and the New Jersey Prog House, among others.
Land project has released three albums so far. This was a band created
by Jeff Greinke and you were the guitarist. Please tell us more about
this project and the three albums. Are there any plans to continue Land?
was formed by composer/keyboardist Jeff Greinke. After releasing
numerous highly regarded solo albums, Jeff felt the urge to flesh out
his ideas with input from a group of like-minded musical compatriots,
hence LAND was born. The group had three distinct lineups over the
course of its existence, with Jeff, me, and trumpeter Lesli Dalaba the
only constants, evolving from a sort of spacy ethno-trance outfit into
the much harder-edged quintet that appeared on the final CD, Road Movies.
All three CDs were recorded live in the studio, so they're accurate
representations of what the band sounded like in concert. After a
seven-year run, LAND folded its tent amicably as Jeff relocated to
Tucson, bassist Fred Chalenor returned to Portland, Oregon, and drummer
Bill Rieflin went on to become the drummer for R.E.M. and many other
projects, including collaborations with Bob Fripp.
brings us, or bridges us, over to China and the Far East. Land toured
quite extensive in China. Your project Iron Kim Style makes a lot of
references to the soon-to-retire dictator in North Korea. Please tell us
more about Iron Kim Style and the self-titled album from earlier this
year. Is there any chance you will continue Iron Kim Style, or are you
going to retire Kim too?
Kim Style is an occasional project spearheaded by bassist Ryan Berg,
who gathered together some of his favorite musicians from previous bands
he had played in. (Ryan and I had worked together in various groups in
Taiwan in the early 1990s and in the late-90s Seattle avant-rock band
Axolotl.) The group plays entirely improvised jazz-rock, though it may
not sound that way; unlike more doctrinaire practitioners of
non-idiomatic free improvisation, IKS embraces melody and groove as
enthusiastically as abstraction. The band takes its name from the
martial-arts approach espoused by Grandmaster “Iron” Kim, simply because
we liked the ring of the name. The references to the monstrous North
Korean dictator Kim Jong Il in song titles and on the CD sleeve are
purely for comic effect – though we’re well aware that Kim’s regime is
no laughing matter to its subjects in North Korea, we feel that ridicule
is the most effective weapon available to us against tyrants of his
went on a bit of a hiatus after original drummer Jay Jaskot departed
Seattle for New York City, but is back in action with a fabulous new
drummer, Tom Zgonc. We’ve already recorded a second album, which will
eventually be released by MoonJune Records.
You have released one of the most stunning beautiful albums of this year, Views from Chicheng Precipice. Please tell us more about this album. The inspirations for Views and
a lot of your more recent work can be found in China and Taiwan (which
the Chinese authorities claim is a part of China). You have written a
book about it called Live at the Forbidden City. Please
tell us more about your fascination with the music from this area and
the book you wrote about this mainly underground scene, which is being
persecuted by the authorities in both China and Taiwan.
thank you for the kind compliment – this project was especially
meaningful to me, and I’m very gratified, and rather surprised, at how
well it has been received by listeners. The project arose from my deep
immersion in East Asian music during the four years that I lived in
China and Taiwan from 1989-93 and subsequent concert tours in both
places, as chronicled in my book Live at the Forbidden City: Musical Encounter in China and Taiwan.
I first went to China to join my then fiancée Anne Joiner, a China
Studies graduate who was teaching in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan
Province, as part of an exchange program. At the time, I had scant
expectation of performing music in China, an assumedly repressive
authoritarian society. However, by degrees I found myself drawn into
increasingly surreal performance scenarios, culminating in concerts for
tens of thousands of people as a guest with pop star Zhang Xing’s band
and later with my own groups based in Taiwan and Seattle. I also
recorded a solo album for the state-owned China Record Company that was
one of the first non-mainstream releases by a foreign artist and sold an
astonishing (for me) 40,000 copies. (I was paid the equivalent of U.S.
$500.) During that time I was privileged to be a witness not only to a
pivotal period of transformation in modern China, but also to the birth
pangs of the Chinese rock movement, many of whose pioneering figures
became my eventual collaborators. Today that fledgling scene, which
originated as a tightly knit underground community of a few dozen
courageous musicians, has blossomed into a full-blown industry with
hundreds of bands, several major festivals, and a bewildering array of
virtually all of the other Western expatriates I encountered there, who
treated Chinese music as though it were kryptonite, I actively sought
out and discovered an affinity for Chinese traditional music. I began
adapting selected traditional works for electric guitar, and over time
the idea of crafting a fully orchestrated ‘tribute’ album took shape in
my imagination. My aim was to capture the essence of my source material
while imbuing it with the full range of my musical interests – creative
rock, free improvisation, electronics, noise – in a way that was both
respectful and provocative. The success of Views owes
largely to the magnificent contributions of my many collaborators,
including legendary trombonist Stuart Dempster and koto master Elizabeth
mentioned just a small part of your artistic output. You have done some
solo albums and you have been involved as a member in many projects.
How do you choose which projects you want to get involved in, and which
of the music styles you’ve played is closest to your heart?
With the notable exception of the traditional pieces I adapted for Views,
the projects I choose to become involved with always involve original
music, either my own compositions or those of my close collaborators.
But it’s not just a question of musical taste and ability – it’s equally
important how I relate to my fellow musicians as people. Over the years I’ve been extremely fortunate to work with musicians whose humanity I admire as much as their musical skill.
I also choose my projects with an eye to exercising my many sometimes disparate musical interests. Views
allowed me to explore my interest in East Asian traditional music and
test my abilities as an arranger. Iron Kim serves as an outlet for my
interest in free jazz, while other occasional groupings provide a
platform for more abstract free improvisation. Moraine is a vehicle for
both my compositions and my longtime fondness for avant-rock.
free to choose from among these various options because I don't depend
on music for a living and hence am not constrained by the need to make
compromises for commerce’s sake. I’d much rather make my compromises in
my work life than in my music life. Here in Seattle, it’s virtually
impossible to earn one’s living playing the kinds of music I do anyway.
know this question is almost impossible to answer, but which of your
many solo and band/project albums do you rate as your best, and which
concert is the best one you have ever been involved in?
I consider Views from Chicheng Precipice
my most elaborate and fully realized recording to date, so I’m
especially proud of that release. But again, East Asian music is an
acquired taste, so I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone. Moraine’s Manifest Density
is probably the most comprehensive distillation of my ‘rock’
sensibilities to date, though the group has grown a great deal since
that CD was recorded. And the Iron Kim Style CD contains some of the best solos I’ve waxed to date.
for concerts, a highlight would have to be Moraine’s appearance at
NEARfest 2010, a wholly unexpected dream gig for us. It was a rare
pleasure to be treated with respect and dignity, to play for an
appreciative like-minded audience, and to enjoy the luxury of
world-class sound and lighting. It definitely whetted our appetite for
more! I also have very fond memories of numerous gigs in Taiwan and
China, including an impromptu collaboration between my Taiwan-based band
Identity Crisis and Chinese rock godfather Cui Jian in Beijing in 1991,
as well a memorable concert I staged with Stuart Dempster and others in
Seattle on 07/07/07.
A technical question: What is your favorite guitar, and why?
favorite guitar is the one I’m using right now, a Godin LGXT solid-body
with additional piezo-electric bridge pickups that enable me to achieve
an almost acoustic sound when the music calls for it. I was introduced
to Godin guitars when I saw my old friend Elliott Sharp play one at a
concert in Seattle a couple of years back, and was amazed at their
fidelity and definition. I also have a Gibson ES-335 that’s perfect for
certain situations, a Steinberger for travel, plus an old Gibson
acoustic and a Dean resonator guitar that saw heavy use on Views because it approximated the sound of East Asian stringed instruments.
a time I was almost typecast as an effects-heavy player, and I do enjoy
creating my own unusual sounds, but lately I mostly employ simple clean
and distorted sounds.
What are your plans for the rest of this year and the coming years?
from the previously mentioned plans for Moraine, Iron Kim Style also
has a new release in the can, and other releases are also in the works
for my most unusual project, the electronically processed thumb-piano
trio Tempered Steel, and an improvising trio with the
distinguished saxophonist Wally Shoup and drummer Tom Zgonc. And in a
bit of a departure for me, I’ll be a featured soloist on a
soon-to-be-recorded jazz big band date here in Seattle, featuring
compositions by the tremendous composer Daniel Barry. I’ve also taken
the first steps toward another elaborate solo project, a musical
rendering of the curious early science-fiction novel A Voyage to Arcturus.
To wrap up this interview, is there anything you want to add?
I’d like to thank the progressive music community at large for the warm
reception to my recent releases. I’m especially indebted to Leonardo
Pavkovic for his belief in me and his assistance in exposing me and my
fellow musicians to a much wider world of listeners than I’d previously
enjoyed; it’s no exaggeration to say that MoonJune’s support has been
literally life-changing. Moraine in particular looks forward to playing
for audiences wherever opportunities arise. Many thanks to ProgArchives
for giving me space to share my thoughts!
Thank you to Dennis Rea for this interview
His homepage is http://www.dennisrea.com -
Replies: Posted By: memowakeman
Date Posted: November 28 2010 at 12:12
Cool, this was an excellent, informative and entertaining interview.
Honestly I am only familiar with the Iron Kim Style project which is pretty good.
Follow me on twitter @memowakeman
Posted By: micky
Date Posted: November 29 2010 at 17:23
great interview Torodd! Meeting Dennis, seeing Moraine, and of course getting those great CD's from Leonardo were actually the musical highlight of Nearfest for me. (Well ..along with seeing Forgas!)