The Stratos Ensemble — Accident at Clear Lake
(Bandcamp no#, 2017, DL)
by Peter Thelen, Published 2018-01-13
The Stratos Ensemble is a group of highly skilled improvising musicians led by keyboard and electronics player Dean De Benedictis, also known as Surface 10 for his purely electronic endeavors, or in these pages for his numerous releases under his own name on Spotted Peccary and his own Fateless imprint. Also featured on this recording are bassist Doug Lunn (Chad Wackerman Trio, and Brand X with John Goodsall and Nick D’Virgilio), drummer Brock Avery (Wayne Kramer and others) and guitarist Daniel Coffeng (a veteran of previous Stratos Ensemble releases). The group is sort of a rotating cast of players, with each of the recordings featuring a different lineup, sometimes four, sometimes five members, the idea being to get together without any previously written material and just let it happen, the same methodology as Barry Cleveland’s Cloud Chamber, except here, instead of their ethnic and bowed strings component, we have a more progressive rock / fusion outcome, rife with power, intensity, and spirited playing, where just about anything can happen at any time, but these guys are master improvisers, so instead of noodling around looking for a direction and occasionally getting off the ground, these guys are airborne from the first few measures until the last. The track titles aren’t all that imaginative, but “Set 1” (indexed into four long sections) is 42 minutes of pure intensity, with every player driving hard, and as a group, getting the results that push the limits of sonic exploration. There are no vocals, only pure instrumental fury, but there are some electronic samples that sound like bits of juxtaposed voices. They can switch from a killer fusion attack to a floating atmospheric sound effortlessly, much in the way King Crimson morphs on some of their classic improvs, then one of the players might bring in a fresh groove, and off they go again into a whole new direction. By comparison, “Set 2” is a mere 21 minutes, and takes a slightly different approach, perhaps more delicate, dreamy and electronic at the outset, building slowly to a bristling climax. Apparently these are both excerpts of a longer session recorded at Clearlake studios in North Hollywood. All three of their CD releases can be heard on the group’s website, as well as many tracks from compilations and unreleased gems as well. Accident at Clear Lake packs a load of power and should be of interest to all fans of eclectic improvisational fusion.
Gong Announces UK Tour for 2020 – Having spent the last few years touring the world, including dates in Japan with psych legend Steve Hillage, multiple headline European tours and festivals, America’s Cruise to the Edge festival, a South America headline tour, and a headline performance at Tomorrow Festival in China, the band have won the hearts of both traditional and modern Gong fanbases. During this live journey, Gong has delved further into the truly psychedelic, exploratory, and mind-expanding side of the music. » Read more
Wolfgang Dauner RIP – Pianist Wolfgang Dauner, one of the pioneers of both European free jazz and jazz rock, has died at the age of 84. With his own groups and with the United Jazz+Rock Ensemble, his playing and compositions were a prominent presence in European jazz from the mid-60s until just recently. » Read more
Michael Allison RIP – Michael Allison, who since 1997 has been recording as Darshan Ambient, passed away on January 9th after a long and brave battle with cancer. He has been at at the forefront of the new ambient/electronic music scene, with over eighteen releases to his credit. » Read more
Neil Peart RIP – One of rock music's defining drummers has died at the age of 67. Neil Peart's work with Rush provided one of the templates for percussion in rock, and he certainly ranks in the top ten most influential drummers of the 20th Century. Peart retired from playing in 2015 due to health issues, and succumbed to brain cancer on January 7, 2020. » Read more