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Paul Kantner Windowpane Collective
Vol. 1 and Vol. 2

Vol.1 – A Martian Christmas
Vol. 2 – Venusian Love Songs

Jefferson Airplane co-founder Paul Kantner is riding a creative resurgence rarely seen from Woodstock-era rockers in the 21st century. Kantner turns 70 this month, but you wouldn’t know it based on the rock legend’s active schedule. In 2008, he found the ultimate fill-in for the retired Grace Slick in form of rock goddess Cathy Richardson. They joined forces in Jefferson Starship to release Jefferson’s Tree of Liberty, a superb revisitation of the Airplane’s folk rock roots. 2009 saw the band on the road again, delivering one of rock’s most exceptional performances of the past decade with a sci-fi themed blowout at the Roswell UFO Festival. The band has also been busy these past couple years leading the Heroes of Woodstock tour. Anyone who still associated Jefferson Starship with commercial pop had to be pleasantly surprised to hear the band re-focusing on the Airplane’s seminal psyche-rock sound.

Kantner and friends are now putting their creative energy into the Windowpane Collective, an ambitious recording project that aims to release a new volume of music every few months based on seasonal themes. Volume 1 – A Martian Christmas – arrived right before Christmas and provided fans with some holiday cheer mixed with Kantner’s longtime loves of science fiction and folk rock. There’s also some forward thinking electronica flavor catalyzed by manager/producer/cohort Michael Gaiman and keyboardist Chris Smith. Volume 2 – Venusian Love Songs – arrived in early February with a collection of tunes oriented to a Valentine’s Day theme. Gaiman compares the concept to a digital equivalent of Levon Helm’s Midnight Ramble concerts, where guests show up for intimate performances not necessarily quite sure of who will be playing, but knowing they’re in for a treat.

The principals here are Kantner, David Freiberg (from Quicksilver Messenger Service and the current Jefferson Starship), Chris Smith, west coast folk legend Jack Traylor and vocalist Darby Gould (who preceded Richardson in Jefferson Starship and still shows up for special occasions.) Many other members of Kantner’s extended musical family are involved as well, including Richardson (although she’s also busy with the Macrodots, her great new rock band with former Scandal guitarist Zack Smith.)

Volume 1’s “Four Strong Winds” and “Winter” both find Gould in fine form on acoustic-oriented rock songs with soaring harmonies, then later rocking out on Chuck Berry’s “Run Rudolph Run.” “A Christmas Cracker” introduces an electronica vibe that could fit right in with acts like EOTO, STS9, and Banco De Gaia, but with some trippy Christmasy vocal samples. “The Martian Christmas Suite” is a 20-minute epic – it opens with Traylor in Earthy mode singing about the three wise men on the way to Bethlehem, segues into a spacier vibe, then features a segue to Kantner on an updated version of his classic “Have You Seen the Stars Tonight,” before another segue into still spacier music familiar from the Blade Runner soundtrack. “Twas the Night Before Christmas” showcases this vibe some more, with a spoken word segment by Kantner over spacey ambiance, mixing tradition and future vision with unique flair.

Volume 2 kicks off with a beautiful mash-up that blends U2’s “Pride in the Name of Love” with Jefferson Starship’s “Miracles” and Martin Luther King Jr.‘s “I Have a Dream” speech. Gould and Richardson are featured together here, the best of both worlds. Then there’s a slew of great covers, starting with the Beatles’ “All You Need is Love,” featuring majestic multi-part harmonies from Freiberg, Kantner and company. Freiberg also stars on Van Morrison’s “Crazy Love,” while Richardson soars on Heart’s “Crazy On You.” Kantner shines with vocals and 12-string guitar on “Martha Under Venusian Sun,” over a spacey synth setting. Kantner and his 12-string also deliver a superb reading of Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright.” Gould takes listeners back in time with “The Trees Grow High,” which could have fit right in on Jefferson’s Tree of Liberty, as could have Jack Traylor’s take on “East Virginia,” which also features Kantner on banjo. But then there’s also the futuristic sound of tracks like “Love Theme from Bladerunner,” featuring some stellar lead guitar from Slick Aguilar, and the “Love is All” ultra-mix, which clocks in at 20:12 and mixes parts from some of the aforementioned tracks into a dreamy trip (or perhaps an acid flashback.)

There are few artists in music who share Kantner’s passion for both ’60s roots rock and futuristic vision, making the Windowpane Collective one of the most unique recording projects of the 21st century. Both volumes are being sold digitally for $19.99, or 99 cents per track at Future volumes are tentatively set to feature “The Civil War Saga” in April to mark the 150th anniversary of that epic conflict, “Songs to the Sun” for the Summer Solstice in June, and “Science Fiction Movie” for the Halloween season. Jefferson Starship will be touring again as well, so 2011 looks like a fertile year for Kantner and crew.

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