Gregg Bendian's Interzone:






Gregg Bendian's Interzone is a clear case of a thematic project that creatively outdistanced it's originally conceived scope and lifespan. William S. Burrough's hallucinatory alternate reality remains the group's namesake, but the players continue to move forward in fresh creative directions. Of all the Beat writers (save perhaps Herbert Huncke) Burroughs was arguably the most enigmatic, both in terms of personality and personal history. Bendian brings the writer's mystique to the music and his deviously constructed soundscapes capture the cosmic dislocation and menace of Burrough's literary creations while still conveying the burnt and twisted synapses of his own frighteningly original creative mind.

Reverse-played loops, fuzz guitar and even fuzz vibes float across the program in a myriad of bizarre combinations. Ethereal tones and timbres stretch and contract in weirdly abstract patterns that hint at familiar reference points, but hover largely beyond a conclusive reach. Other pieces like "Intrepid" and "Drive" have a definitive rhythmic and harmonic base, but still lope along in atypical directions. Liebig's corpulent bass figures, which walk and leap with startling alacrity given their fleshy girth, are the most frequent common denominator for the ensemble. The Cline brothers, who unveil a telepathic symmetry clearly the product of their sanguinary ties, fill out the fringes while Bendian's vibes, set for maximum luminosity, spray an incandescent rainbow of melodic permutations in radiating arcs. The majority of tracks clock in near the ten-minute mark and are rife with chimerically harnessed energy funneled into a myriad of outlets. "Diaspora" is a 13-minute tone poem that unfolds like a dream uniting corrosive slide guitar, creepy vibraphonics, malleted percussion, morose bass and an ample use of space into united whole that perplexes as it placates. On "Sanctuary" the players invite the listener on a psychosonic trip into the interstellar void fueled by back-looped guitar and coruscating percussion. Bendian's universe via Burroughs is an alien place, but those willing to abandon the tethers of preconception are certain to find vantagepoints into the myriad mysteries it contains and be rewarded.

Derek Taylor - -


Sometimes, a very specific component of music triggers a subjective reaction that prohibits full enjoyment, whatever the merits of the whole. The kind of thing I'm talking about here is where one says of a band, "I'd like them fine if I could just stand the guy's voice." Many have no problem with this hypothetical voice-- some may even like it-- but for you, the voice provokes a visceral reaction that can only be overcome with great effort, if at all. Such is the case for my reaction to Gregg Bendian's Interzone, but this being instrumental music, it's not the voice I can't stand. It's the jazz fusion guitar.

The guitar in question belongs to Nels Cline. Now, don't get me wrong. I can separate my gut reaction from my critical faculties enough to tell you that Nels Cline is a fine guitar player, picking his way up and down these complex scales with copious technique and sufficient melodic innovation. He's definitely holding his own with the best of yesteryear's fusion axe-men, the John McLaughlins and Pat Methenys of the world. But I can't hear the jazz tradition in Cline's guitar improvisations; all I can hear is a noodly sound that rubs me the wrong way, like bad Frank Zappa or the Grateful Dead's "Space." Fusion guitar solos just don't do it for me.

So, Cline's guitarwork aside, how is the rest of Gregg Bendian's Interzone? Quite good, actually. This is noir-ish jazz led by Bendian's clarion work on the vibraphone and glockenspiel, and backed by the energetic, driving rhythm section of bassist Steuart Liebig and drummer Alex Cline. Some comparisons could be made to John Zorn's more accessible work like "Spillane." And anyone who can imagine a rocked-up version of the Modern Jazz Quartet can picture what Myriad sounds like. "Intrepid" is the highlight here, with Bendian's melodic riffs being pushed into all the right places by Cline and Liebig. The appropriately titled "Drive" is similar-- it experiments even further with stop/start tempo shifts and punctuated vibe riffs.

Less interesting are the drawn out, moody drone pieces like "Diaspora" and "Sanctuary" (a John McLaughlin composition) where the intros can last up to two minutes before the tempos shift at all. But on balance, this is tasteful, accomplished vibe-driven music that should appeal to fans of the Chicago instrumental scene willing to take the full jazz plunge. But don't say I didn't warn you about the guitar.

Mark Richardsan - -



At least, no one has ever accused percussionist Gregg Bendian of taking the easy route. Bendian's previous album was a 'nads-out, drummer's power duel with guitarist Nels Cline that torqued an electrical surge for a disc of John Coltrane covers.

While Bendian's latest album doesn't bear a lot of modern interpolation (except for a lone cover of a John McLaughlin tune), the percussionist is no less innovative here, by reintroducing his array of mallet-driven vibraphones, glockenspiels, and fuzz vibes as a lead instrument. Although they have always been part of the jazz lexicon, their use of vibes as a fusion or rock tool has been severely limited due to amplification inadequacies. It's been only since their recent inclusions during recent Tortoise/Isotope 217 dates that vibes have come again. And while "Myriad" hasn't resolved all of the technical problems (the decay of notes blending together still takes time), Bendian does make a case for the 20-something improvisers who don't find much allegiance with Milt Jackson or Gary Burton. Lining up with guitarist Cline again (who's become the prominent, dominant six-stringer of the season), along with brother drummer Alex Cline and bassist Steuart Liebig, Bendian brings a sharp, melodic snap to his work-riding low on the suspended tones for an atmospheric bliss, while hammering out frantic runs for the darker themes.

More importantly, "Myriad" tackles many different settings for the occasion, using descriptive, written-out lines for the soundtrackish "Interzonia 1," offering sketchy melodies and bopish grooves for the Third Streamish "Intrepid," and difficult repetitive Reichian lines and Zappa-like counterpoint during the complexity of "Pattern Master." Hold your Berklee degree, tho, since the disc concludes with a forceful, rockin' "Drive," that slowly seeps into the freedom dance and sonic sorcery of McLaughlin's "Sanctuary." Probably one of the most important albums of the year. And wouldn't you know it, it rocks.

Richard Proplesch - -


Gregg Bendian's Interzone takes its jazz to more celestial realms with Myriad . The group consists of Bendian on vibes, Steuart Liebig on bass, and brothers Alex and Nels Cline on drums and guitar, respectively.
From the sound of things, it seems as if Interzone draws inspiration from Miles Davis' electric period and from fusion pioneers Mahavishnu Orchestra. The music on Myriad goes from the soothing and spacial tones from Bendian's vibes to dissonant unison melodies to spurts of noise. The band knows how to breathe and create space, often producing a gorgeous yet sinister vibe. Nels Cline and Bendian work beautifully together, but it is Cline's guitar work that stands out the most, as he leaps from textural soundscapes to furious and speedy dissonance with ease and grace: creepy, metallic, and surreal.

Chris Morris - -


Myriad (on Atavistic ), is yet more evidence - - along with recent releases by the likes of Paul Wertico, Scott Amendola and Planet X - - that the spirit of early-'70s jazz fusion is rising again with fresh blood in its eyes. I happened to first hear it while doing time in my car, and I had to pull over. Alex Cline powered forward like he had a rocket shooting out of his drum stool. Bassist Steuart Liebig grooved, off-accented and sensualized simultaneously. Guitarist Nels Cline riffed like McLaughlin and soloed emerald helixes - - wow, he loves playing this shit. And Bendian's flailing vibes constantly reassembled molecular models of context for his rigorous compositions. One of the best albums of the year, and a don't-miss live.

(Greg Burk)