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Stratospheerius - Joe Deninzon & Stratospheerius: Behind the Curtain (Live at ProgStock) CD (album) cover




Crossover Prog

5.00 | 1 ratings

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kev rowland
Special Collaborator
Honorary Reviewer
5 stars When violinist/singer Joe Deninzon was teaching at The New School in New York he came across Alex Skolnick (yes, THAT Alex Skolnick) who was on one of his breaks from Testament and was studying jazz guitar, and together they recorded an album and formed a band called Stratospheerius. The band has been through a few line-up changes over the years, but recently can be found with Joe alongside drummer Jason Gianni, bassist Paul Ranieri and guitarist Michelangelo Quirinale. This four-disc set from Melodic Revolution Records captures two different Progstock concerts, from 2019 and 2021 and includes a CD of each, alongside a DVD and blu-ray, presented nicely with a small booklet.

To write the review I am listening to the audio but must confess I have been mostly watching the concerts on TV as the multi-camera recording has fully captured a band who are very much in their element, bouncing off each other and having a great time. Each of those involved is a wonderful musician, and I think Joe is possibly the only violinist in the world who plays a custom 7-string for the most part, with a strap which allows him to have both hands free as opposed to having to hold the violin at all times. One of the beauties of the visual is that not only do we see the interaction but also the backdrop videos, which sometimes get put into the main feed and their addition is fascinating.

Musically the guys are very much a prog band who enjoy long instrumental passages, yet they can also be surprisingly commercial and also enjoy bringing in jazz. The 2019 set finds the band mixing and melding their fusion style, and the harmonies on opener "Behind The Curtain" are wonderful, and I have found myself returning to that song time and again as it is such a blast, but being honest I often find that whatever song I am playing is my favourite, and "The Prism" is an amazing way to bookend the set. The threads are insanely complex and complicated, and how Joe manages to sound so composed while he is singing yet is demolishing his violin at the same time is totally beyond me.

While the first set is sublime with the band at full speed, the second set is somewhat more fractured just because Joe is extending what the band is doing. For "Storm Surge" they bring in pianist/flautist Rachel Flowers which adds a totally different element of the band, and then there is a full reset for a take on Chick Corea's "Spain". Here Joe moves onto a normal violin, Alex Skolnick joins on acoustic guitar, and they then work with Rachel to produce a jazz masterclass ? with Rachel being blind it is interesting to note her piano was at a different angle to normal with both Alex and Joe taking their cues from her at all times. The quartet resume with a blistering take on Muse's "Hysteria" before Alex returns on electric to play "Heavy Shtettle" for the first time in 20 years.

This is an absolutely glorious set from a group who consistently deliver. It is perhaps no surprise at all that Kansas chose Joe to replace the departed David Ragsdale as violinist on their 50th Anniversary Tour. That is amazing news for him, but let us hope it is not too long until we get more music from these guys, as this collection is just stunning.

kev rowland | 5/5 |


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