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Published: 2004/01/27
by Mike Greenhaus

Live From Nowhere – Spacestation Integration

Spacestation Integration's debut album may be titled Live from
Nowhere, but the Pennsylvania trio's sound is certainly rooted somewhere
stable. A progressive hybrid of bluegrass, jazz, and jam-rock, Spacestation
Integration includes many of hippie rock's usual sources on their uptempo
live CD. But what differentiates the Pennsylvania-based quartet from other
intellectual jammers is that they decided to bring their banjo with them
into space.

These days, the banjo isn't a totally alien instrument in the world of
improvisational music. For many years, Bela Fleck and the Flecktones have
interwoven banjo jams into their Celtic-jazz sound. Furthermore,
bluegrass-based jambands like Leftover Salmon and Gordon Stone Band have
also long employed the instrument for non-bluegrass improv. Yet what makes
Spacestation Integration different from other banjo-led jambands is their
tendency to favor progressive-rock over country-western. Sure, the
Flecktones also incorporated some spacy elements into their jams, but
Spacestation Integration elevate their psychedelic tendencies to the
forefront of their banjo stew, burying bluegrass beneath a carefully woven
mixture of banjos, congos, drums, and bass. While a few more traditional
bluegrass workouts are present on Live From Nowhere, such as the
short "McGee's Crossroads" and "Dueling Banjos," these numbers are used more
to create a sense of the album's conceptual unity, instead of planting the
banjo among more traditional bluegrass sounds.

A flowing, nine song selection recorded in July of 2003, Live From Nowhere
successfully captures Spacestation Integration's live prowess. Opening with
"McGee's Crossroads," a gentle banjo ballad that slowly builds into a
full-band rocker, Live From Nowhere locks into a stage band's wind-up
approach to performance. While the rocker "Highland Drive" sets the live
disc's gear-shift into rock and roll mode, Spacestation Integration truly
get going on "Minding the Little Things," an aggressive, yet melodic,
number. Spacestation Integration claim Pink Floyd rather than Bill Monroe
and his Bluegrass Boys as their forefathers.

At times veering a bit too close to Flecktone territory, Spacestation
manages to integrate its solos into the group collective a bit more
delicately than the Flecktones pronounced approach to jamming on "Minding
the Little Things." Using the two-part percussion of Chris Dougherty and
Matt Deibert and the basslines of new member Rob Bye to create a carefully
layered backdrop, five-string banjo player Ryan Cavanaugh peaks during the
group's tension and release jams, while also contributing an equal role to
more cohesive group jams. In fact, Live from Nowhere's best moment
favors an equal partnership rather than showmanship: "Mozingo Road" allows
all for members of the quartet to test out the talents of their ears.

Though an enjoyable listen, Live From Nowhere does struggle to find
its own voice at several points throughout its hour-long journey. While
their take on the traditional "Dueling Banjoes" allows Cavanaugh to prove
his bluegrass might, the number seems a bit bare when placed between more
pronounced psychedelic experiments. Used to help give Live From
Nowhere a sense of conceptual unity, Spacestation Integration's talents
lie in their ability to weave traditional music, not recapture the spirit of
past bluegrass masters. Furthermore, "Highland Drive," the album's most
straight-ahead rock number sounds more like a bar-band cover than a
fine-oiled jazz-combo, diminishing the group's professional approach to

In many ways, Bela Fleck still holds the patent on jazz-inspired banjo. So,
it makes sense that at times Live From Nowhere nods to the famed New
York picker. But Spacestation Integration create their own blend of jazz,
bluegrass, and subtle Middle Eastern sounds, creating a sense of group
cohesiveness the Flecktones push aside in favor of solo spots. While
Spacestation Integration might have to do a bit more fine-tuning before they
approach the Flecktones' musical prowess, the quartet have blasted the banjo
beyond bluegrass.

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