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CD Feature/ Joseph Benzola: "Winter in America"

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Wow! This is quite some music! Take a huge industrial blender and throw in ingredients like jazz, psychedelic music, Arabian chants, violins performing heavy chainsaw duties, avant-garde poems, masterful piano tunes and a whole bunch of powerful percussions and a lot more mind-boggling stuff, and out comes ‘Winter in America’. This is a masterpiece. No less. Joseph Benzola proves that his musical ideas and trips into the undefined never end but force the discovery of uncharted territory. Yet, his music has very well defined roots in familar areas, which he generously phrases with utmost finesse. But than again, there is this huge industrial blender, which puts all these genres and trends and melts them together to a new tasty brand.

One rather untypical piece is ‘Prayer for Peace’. Strictly keyboards, it leaves out all the percussion instruments Joseph generally likes to use predominantly. But than listening to the excellent piano play, one finds that this in structure and atmosphere comes very close to what he usually does with drums and other rhythm tools. And that is possibly his utmost strength, that the limits between purely producing some type of rhythm on the one hand and melody of sorts on the other hand are overlapping to an extent that they can not be divided by characteristics any more. Almost effortlessly, he uses a drum set to create a melody, while on the other hand he uses for instance a keyboard to perform rhythm. This is one key to the art of composing Joseph Benzola masters so perfectly.

Having said this, the pieces of this CD use this technique among others to transport strong ideas and feelings, often raw and aggressive as in ‘Underworld’, at times even lugubrious as in ‘Tears in Iraq’. And, of course, almost sentimental as in ‘Portraits of the Dead: Kerouac-Burroughs-Gysin. Reciting voices take back into the time of these pioneers of literature perfectly underlined by the avant-garde music of the days when these guys gave expression to a new feeling, a new brand of experiences, a new way of experimental behavior.A special tribute has to be paid to ‘Underworld’. Mary Lou Newmark has composed this remarkable piece of music together with Joseph Benzola. She has a classical background and degrees in violin performance and composition. Her play is absolutely stunning, reminding me in its excentricity of Paganinis excursions into violin wonderland.

In ‘Underworld’ the violin hits like a whip, howls like a siren, is really alive like a mystical creature spreading fear and terror. The accompanying voice is dark and threatening, almost striking pure panic into the hearts of those around; the music paints a vivid picture of the primal fear deeply rooted into our subconscious minds, often neglected but nonetheless always present. The composing capabilities of Mary Lou Newmark and Joseph Benzola compliment each other in a highly dramatic way. I personally hope that this collaboration will see some continuance in the future.

‘Winter in America’ is extremely impressive and, as far as I am concerned, almost flawless in its musical integrity. This CD stands out like a rock in the ever changing stream of contemporary music, a logical sequel to what the likes of Frank Zappa, Miles Davis and others once started. Simply said: Great stuff!!!

By Fred Wheeler

Homepage: Joseph Benzola



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