The Adventures of Stratospheerius – Joe Deninzon
Hidden expertly after what is mostly the flaccid funk/fusion vamps of
concert/session violinist extraordinairre Joe Deninzon’s new project is
quite a treat: one of the best constructed and performed pop songs of the
The fifth track on The Adventures of Stratospheerius, "Hope Alive",
is a gem. To this point, the album sounds like Dave Matthews Band violinist
Boyd Tinsley sitting in with ulu for an uninspired studio session. But, on
"Hope Alive", the six-piece group (which incidentally includes ulu keyboard
whiz Scott Chasolen) lays back and stops trying to impress with its
instrumental prowess. The violin here is complimentary, rather than
overwhelming; the vocal harmonies, with Deninzon at the lead, are sweet; and
there’s just enough musical quirkiness to hint at the stratospheric
explorations on the rest of the album. "I’ll meet you halfway/from here to
my heart" the group sings, sounding more like the Backstreet Boys then a
funk/fusion outfit, before Deninzon promptly launches into a hot, yet
tasteful, violin solo.
"Hope Alive" is an example of this group achieving a lofty goal: a group
made up of instrumental heavyweights playing pleasing music not bogged down
in mathematical intricacies. Deninzon, who’s classically trained and has
played with everyone from Sheryl Crow to Everclear, leads the group through
a 12-song disc that sometimes catches the lightheartedness of "Hope Alive"
and other times is mired in the fusion lifelessness that sometimes seems
unavoidable on projects like this.
"Hindsight" is another of the songs with vocals – there are six – and a
violin-led funk jam is reminiscent of new roots fusion band, The Ally.
"Storytime" is another chance for the band to let its hair down, with
countrified violin and a funky, stomping chorus. Chasolen’s keyboards and a
nice ambient touch in the bridge before the group starts the funk anew.
"Sun Goes Down" rivals "Hope Alive" for best-of-CD honors. A tight, mournful
flamenco guitar intro sets a theme explored by Deninzonintrospective,
observational lyrics. The song’s tune transports you to a candlelit Italian
or Spanish restaurant, but that is not to say this is background music. This
is the foreground. And despite a rough start and some unwelcomed fusion
rehashes of years past throughout, the same can be said for the most of
The Adventures of Stratosphereius.