Bone Structure reinvents jazz-rock fusion. Four L.A.-based veteran improvisers use the grooves and instrumentation of vintage fusion to stimulate "real-time" group inventions. With Jeff Gauthier's violin and G.E. Stinson's guitar out front, the lineup recalls the first Mahavishnu Orchestra and also King Crimson from the same era. Like those bands, Bone Structure uses relentless, driving rhythms to launch high-energy solos. Because the players have worked with each other in various configurations, the improvisations sound tight and composed.
Most tracks evolve out of the quartet's spacey explorations, coalescing around Gregg Bendian's drum patterns. Throughout, Bendian sets and shifts the tempo and direction, seemingly conducting the improvisation from behind the drums. Steuart Liebig contributes deep, rubbery bass lines as well as a menacing undercurrent. Gauthier's laser-sharp lines effectively contrast with Stinson's gritty textures and raging solos. Their us of pedals on "Steel Hair" evokes the wah-heavy sound of early '70s Miles Davis, yet Bone Structure isn't a nostalgia session; these are intelligent, exhilarating improvs with a cutting edge.
Four-piece Bone Structure is band that tries to mix the vigor and skill of original jazz-rock fusion with a lighter backbeat and the sort of dabbling in sampling and muted techniques pioneered by Euro improvisers. The result can be described as sort of headbangers meet foottappers meet headnodders.
How well does this work? Depending on the listeners' tolerance for bombastic percussion and caterwauling guitar licks, anywhere between 40 to 70 percent of the time. Although there are many impressive sounds here, the four band members further weaken their presentation by offering too much of a good thing. Bone Structure features 12 tunes and clocks in at nearly 77 minutes.
Not that this isn't a sincere effort from all concerned. Percussionist Gregg Bendian, for one, recorded Interzone, an earlier CD saluting ProgRock pioneers Gentle Giant, and is part of a tribute band called The Mahavishnu Project, honoring guess who? Bendian has also played with Cecil Taylor, Ornette Coleman, Vinny Golia, John Zorn and ex-Beefheart sideman Zoot Horn Rollo. Guitarist G.E. Stinson founded fusion band Shadowfax in 1974. Despite that dubious achievement, he is also involved with more outside activities in Los Angeles, along with folks like modern kotoist Miya Masaoka and Bendian's Interzone associates -- Nels and Alex Cline.
Violinist Jeff Gauthier has played in symphony orchestras, with world/jazz musician Yusef Lateef and with Golia and Alex Cline. Bass guitarist Steuart Liebig's playing partners have included funk pianist Les McCann, avant reedist Julius Hemphill, Golia, Bendian and singer/songwriter Michael Penn. All this experience may explain how Bone Structure (the band) can be as good as it is when it shuffles the hard rock echoes off the set.
On "Floating Bunraku," for instance, sweet, wiggling violin lines mix it up with some speedy glockenspiel tones courtesy of Bendian. Stinson confines
himself to Derek Bailey-like intermittent string plucks until a heavier, repeated bass guitar line moves the piece along. Soon Gauthier, who is also able to create both effects-pedal extensions to his fiddle or a shimmering flute-like tone, has come up with harsh staccato glissandos that entwine the guitar lines like a snake. The drummer's talents here encompass varied rhythms, but like too many other tracks here, at the end the music just stops, rather then coming to a logical conclusion.
Two-stringed Oriental erhu-like tones work themselves out on the aptly named "Spirit Box" as Bendian's heavy drumbeat is leavened by very miscellaneous percussion, perhaps another variation of the glockenspiel. Meanwhile "Faded Sun" makes its point with some African-style drumming, lightly accented, spacey violin lines and an undulating guitar section.
Then there's the brief "Toothpick Fantasy." Here Bendian's right-handed piano arpeggios accompany Gauthier's double-stopped, clear violin lines as if the two were playing a concerto. Of course concertos aren't usually bisected by flailing dobro lines or string scratches near the guitar bridge. "Either Or" and "Nomad" feature arrhythmic drum parts with shadowing bass guitar sections. Soon, though, the rippling percussion serves as the landing strip as gyrating fiddle lines and resonating guitar fills ricochet off one another.
Except for what surprisingly sounds like sampled vocals from a classical Carnatic singer and the giggles of a young girl which mix with wild cymbal sweeps, fuzztone guitar runs and surf bass runs on "Mutoscope," the longest and final track, too many of the other tunes have licks that sound, well ...
expected. There are more than a few stratospheric, probing, guitar-god heroics; Brothers Johnson-style bass guitar thumb pops; echoing fun-fusion electric fiddle fantasias; and overstuffed drum beats that are as predictable as they are regular. Loud and snotty yes, but not particularly young or original is the band.
Which is too bad. For on tunes like the ones already cited, Bone Structure proves that it can bring something original to a genre that has already been subsumed by happy-faced smooth jazz. If the band can literally lightened up and drag itself from the 1970s into the 21st century, the next CD may be something to listen to all the way through.
(Ken Waxman, jazzweekly.com)
As the late great Ralph Kramden would say, "some people got it, some people don't." In this case, the "it" refers to the ability to craft engaging group (free) improvisation - some folks invariably spew a navel-gazing skronk-doodle fest, others keep in mind that somebody out there in Audioland is going to have to listen to what they're layin' down. Thanks be to the Studio Gods that this lot falls into the latter category. This quartet, whose individual components' backgrounds include Cecil Taylor, Les McCann, Shadowfax and Nels Cline, plays with unusual focus and pointed cohesiveness. The results range from the ethereal, sparse ambiance of "Ether Or" (where J. Gauthier's violin sighs and cries like a soprano voice) to the charging "Floating Bunraku" (recalling King Crimson at their thundering Red/Discipline best) to the churning "Steel Hair," which I think is a deliberate (and welcome) tip-o'-the-hat to Miles Davis' early 70s music. The musicianship of all is sterling, yet there are NO excessive/tedious displays of Technique. Every now 'n' again, this collective evokes the joyously dissonant, supremely rough-hewn proto-fusion the "mark I" Tony Williams Lifetime (Emergency/Turn It Over) - I can think of few higher recommendations than that.
(Mark Keresman, jazzreview.com)
Bone Structure is something different: post-jazz fusion-progressive rock-electronica-jam band music that features a wily sinister vibe. Some of the infectious grooves are reminiscent of those laid down by Ginger Baker and Jonas Hellborg on Baker's very fine and underrated Unseen Rain from several years back. Other influences can be heard as well. From time to time guitarist G.E. Stinson sounds remarkably like John McLaughlin from Miles Davis's Live Evil. There are also allusions to works such as Weather Report's "Mr. Gone" and "Saturn Return" from Elements.
The point of mentioning these influences is to provide a musical vantage point. Please don't believe that the music is derivative in any way. In fact, it is quite original and somewhat dangerous. I must admit that I find it difficult to listen to the entire album in one sitting. I am from the old school and still not quite used to sitting still for seventy-five minute albums. But the real reason for the difficulty is that the musical intensity released by these players is quite an overwhelming experience. One gets the sense that you are listening to a soundtrack of a very good science-fiction movie in which perhaps some not so very good things are happening.
Bendian does stupendous triple duty on the album, playing drums, glockenspiel and piano. Jeff Gauthier plays some very haunting electric and acoustic violin. Steuart Liebig's bass is a force for evil in the grooves and Stinson's acid guitar is a revelation as are his contributions on "implements". These "implements" create what I would call electronic noises. I have never enjoyed such noises until I heard this album. They are distinct yet indistinct parts of the music. You'll actually have to listen to Bone Structure to appreciate that last sentence.
The music was actually recorded in 2000, but the album was not released until this year. The band claims all of the music was improvised on the spot. If this includes the "implements" sections, it would make this claim doubly impressive. Something else about the album is quite intriguing: the sound appears to all come from the center channel and then branch out as if it was being released through an upside down funnel or one of those old RCA Victrola horns. I don't know how they got this effect or even if it was intentional, but it gives the music a very strong hypnotic center.
Choosing specific tunes to illustrate these points would be a pointless exercise. The album is thematic in nature, with 12 tunes somehow interrelated to make a cogent whole. This is very serious and exciting music, dark and thought provoking. Don't think you can just listen to it half-assed.
(Walter Kolosky, allaboutjazz.com)
Bone Structure from Gregg Bendian, Jeff Gauthier, Steuart Liebig, and G.E. Stinson is a collection of abstract space fusion impromptus that stretch the boundaries for musical exploration. The improvisational nature of the album makes the tracks have a very live and uncertain feel to them. The rhythms and tonality explored are both provocative and unconventional. The pieces have a character similar to the music of King Crimson of the 1970's that is comprised of dissonant themes that are tenuously balance with a straining musical direction that struggles for coherency, though the strained exertion seems to be the intent and goal of the effort. The music is a combination of complex drum rhythms, dissonant motifs articulated by stringed instruments, and some unusual effects thrown in for added space-oid flavoring.
This CD is not for the faint of heart and will appeal most likely only to the most ardent fans of outside exploration. The lack of accessibility in the themes and the abstract nature of the improvisation will most likely narrow the listening audience of this album to fans of 20th century abstract impressionistic music. But, fans of this type of music may want to check out this album for its intensive drum rhythms and abstract themes that are worked together in spontaneous extempore.
(Christopher Ruel , www.ChrisRuel.com - - November 2003)
Ascritto a quattro valenti acrobati dell'improvvisazione collettiva, "Bone Structure" è un progetto musicale dal taglio stilistico trasversale, che attinge dal procace terreno del jazz "libero e radicale" per resuscitare i fantasmi di certo prog-rock europeo anni Settanta (vengono in mente gli High Tide, i King Crimson, addirittura i Magma se non gli Henry Cow ) e celebrare nel contempo l'ibrida lezione jazz-fusion di Mahavishnu Orchestra e Weather Report. Trascinatore e anima del quartetto è senz'altro Gregg Bendian, incredibile forgiatore di dicotomie ritmiche e tempi dispari che trafiggono la trama sonora rendendola atta ad accogliere le luci e le ombre disseminate dai restanti strumenti. Toothpick Fantasy è un sinistro acquerello cameristico disegnato dai contrappunti del piano e dagli accordi del violino. Avvincenti poi la tetraggine jazz-rock e le cellule funk che avvolgono Demagogue, con la batteria che incalza minacciosa la sei corde acida e metallica di G. E. Stinson. Il giovane chitarrista losangeleno (svezzato e cresciuto nel circuito dei gruppi diretti dal grande Alex Cline) è infatti l'altra personalità forte di questo disco, il suo trumento è un elemento "positivo" di disturbo che scheggia l'aria con fare ruvido e forsennato (ascoltare Plasma Wave oppure Mutoscope per credere). Per contro l'opera svolta dal contrabbasso di Steuart Liebig e dal violino (sia acustico che elettrico) di Jeff Gauthier fornisce al contesto generale la necessaria varietà di toni e atmosfere, creando un polifonia d'insieme liricamente esuberante anche in episodi meditativi ed esplicitamente sperimentali quali Ether Or e Nomad. Diplomatico quanto basta nel dare spago al passato senza perdere terreno sul versante dell'attualità, "Bone Structure" si rivela alla fine una rigenerante esperienza d'ascolto.
(MUSICA JAZZ, Maggio 2003, teanojazz.org)
One of my favorite jazz-rock bands of all time is the 1972-1974 configuration of King Crimson, featuring Robert Fripp on guitar, John Wetton on fuzz bass, Bill Bruford on drums, and David Cross on violin. This band was a force to be reckoned with: blistering heavy metal prog, searing highs and rumbling lows, polyrhythmic and odd-time beats and tempos, jangling tones and intricate juxtapositions of strangeness. All that was just the icing on the cake. This band could create spontaneous compositions from the air, start them from almost nothing and build them into powerhouses of imagination. Everything seemed to groove, even stuff in 17/16 time. Everything got really loud, climaxed, and then subsided. The band was unstoppable. It was the most incredible example of heavy prog music for all time.
This quartet of Bendian on drums, Gauthier on violin, Liebig on bass, and Stinson on guitars functions on, as far as I can tell, exactly the same magnitude as 72-74 King Crimson. Each of the twelve "works" on this filled-to-the-max CD starts with impressions, develops a theme, increases the stakes and intensity, climaxes and then dissipates like the perfect science fiction engine. To confirm my suspicions of pure Crimson-ness, I find on the inside of the digipak fold this inscription: "All music improvised in real time". Proof offered: this quartet shares one mind, a dark and sizzling entity. This veritable force of musicians and has created an important album for the world.
Know this: the 72-74 King Crimson was plagued with problems and dissolved with a whimper. This quartet promises something: it lets us know that it can do what the masters of three dacades ago could do, and it also lets us know that it is still viable and existing in this temporal plane to build on its themes more. Whether it chooses to build another bone structure is beside the point. This music can be done today, and it can still work on its own level, in its own merit. What's more important is this: it can do it without sounding "proggy" or dated. I am very happy to know this.
(Fred Barrett, beyondcoltrane.com)
La Cryptogramophone Records continua imperterrita a sfornare album eccellenti provenienti da un piccolo manipolo di artisti californiani che cercano, con successo, di tenere il passo con le novità che arrivano da New York e dintorni. Con questi due album, il primo accreditato collettivamente ai quattro musicisti che compongono il gruppo, il secondo sotto la leadership del poco noto trombonista Scot Ray, siamo di nuovo a toccare vette elevatissime dove la creatività si sposa con la grande perizia strumentale e le idee scorrono a meraviglia e in abbondanza.
Bone Structure è davvero uno sforzo collettivo e i quattro musicisti firmano assieme anche le 12 composizioni che compongono l'album. Ascoltando questa musica a cavallo fra l'avanguardia più sfrenata e il rock progressivo si è indotti a pensare che Gregg Bendian possa essere l'ispiratore di fondo del progetto, anche per la continuità che c'è con altri suoi recenti progetti (vedi Requiem for Jack Kirby e The Mahavishnu Project), ma di sicuro i quattro si spendono al meglio per nutrire questa creatura onnivora che cresce organicamente, toccando in certi momenti territori astratti, percussivi e rituali, per poi passare a tirate appassionate che rispolverano le memorie della migliore Mahavishnu Orchestra.
Il violino di Jeff Gauthier si arrotola in lunghe frasi minacciose, i mille aggeggi filtrano il suo suono e lo fanno scoppiettare in altrettanti rivoli carichi di elettricità, per poi farlo diventare sinfonico e trascinate. La sottile chitarra di G.E. Stinson è lontana dai funambolismi di John McLaughlin e soci, la sua arte è più legata alla tessitura della trama sonica, al raccordo fra la ritmica e il proscenio e raramente si concede assoli veri e propri. Il profondo contrabbasso elettrico di Steuart Liebig allunga la dimensione del suono andando a toccare vibrazioni profonde che l'ottima incisione sa ben mettere in risalto. Gregg Bendian è quel vero folletto che ben conosciamo: la sua arte percussiva, in un contesto così aperto, si scatena a dovere. La spina dorsale di questo progetto, o la sua struttura ossea, per riprenderne il titolo, è sicuramente costruita a partire dalla sua batteria e dalle sue percussioni.
If you want to read my notes on this album, click here.