Joseph Benzola - "Winter In America"
(Amanita Music 2003, 007)
Uploaded to Aural Innovations: January 2004
Percussionist/pianist/composer Joseph Benzola is back with his first release since the Crippled Symmetry set from 2001. Benzola excels at creating avant-garde percussion symphony-sound exploration works, and the nearly 18 minute "A Tragedy" which opens the CD is a treat in this regard. The piece opens with howling atmospherics and Benzola's brand of percussion, which is a difficult to describe blend of ethnic and jazz stylings, but with a careful focus on sound creation, tone, texture, etc, along with a busy and varied delivery that runs through a non-stop parade of clatter, bells, flutes, jazzy drum kit jams, and everything else under the sun, though Benzola is at all times focused and sure of his direction. Having heard quite a bit of his work I think that's what I find so enticing about his music... I suppose I'll call it composed cacophony... where on the one hand the percussion and sounds keep the pace moving at a rapid clip with a continual onslaught of sounds, yet there is also lots of ambience and even freaky bits that color the music and create a spacey atmosphere. And speaking of freakiness, "Underworld" is a standout which really brings the electronics and strange voices into the mix. And guest Mary Lou Newmark's violin adds a sometimes frantic intensity to the piece, which makes for an interesting contrast with the steady alien groove laid down by Benzola's percussion and electronics.
Other highlights include "Tears In Iraq", an appropriately titled track for a 2003 release. Traditional chanting, flutes, horns and light but steady tribal percussion draw on Middle Eastern influences but is presented in Benzola's trademark style. And though Benzola considers himself a percussionist first, he is also an accomplished pianist, and on "Prayer For Peace" we're treated to one of his compositions for piano. In terms of both musicianship and passionate performance it's a delight to hear him play. He draws on multiple jazz and classical styles, injecting avant-garde elements and bits of dissonance, while keeping the music at all times accessible. A really beautiful piece. And veteran Benzola fans will be pleased to hear that the Portraits Of The Dead series continues, this time paying homage to Kerouac-Burroughs-Gysin.
In summary, Joseph Benzola has a truly unique and recognizable voice, not a small accomplishment, and in my opinion is one of the more imaginative composers and musicians on the contemporary avant-garde scene. He's also one of the best examples I can point to when people wonder at Aural Innovations' seemingly schizophrenic attention to space rock and psychedelia on the one hand, and avant-garde experimental music on the other. Give Joseph Benzola a listen and you'll hear all these worlds come together.
For more information you can visit the Joseph Benzola web site at: http://web.mac.com/jbenzola/iWeb/amanitamusic.
Email at: email@example.com.
Reviewed by Jerry Kranitz