THE STRATOS ENSEMBLE is a band and music project that has been expanding the margins between ambient electronic soundscapes and improvised jazz sensibilities officially since 2004. It is lead by producer Dean De Benedictis, originally a fusion keyboardist who is known as electronic musician Surface 10. The band's name is a metaphoric reference to three general ideas: the idea of space and expanse, the idea of the infinite and amorphous nature of the sky, and the idea that truly exploratory music unapologetically reaches out beyond the fringes of any conventional concept or atmosphere.
Usually comprised of experienced players, the ensemble's format is almost completely improvisational, but their techniques and musicianship sometimes yield the affect of playing pre-arranged music. The band fits a progressive jazz-fusion classification, even though it's overall sound comes across more cinematic than other ensembles decorating both the fusion and improvisational scene. The ensemble was even appropriately referred to once as sophisticated space rock. Championing fairly obscure pioneers of the 70s, such as those involved in the early ECM Records movement and the deeper side of early progressive rock, The Stratos Ensemble approaches their work from a melodic ambient, and sometimes psychedelic music base, rather than the traditionally non-idiomatic, tamboral school of thought, usually reserved for improvised jazz.
Everytime The Stratos Ensemble performs, either in public or private, it is a rather special occasion. It is both the first and last time this music will likely ever be performed. When it's a concert performance, both the band and the audience are literally witnessing permanent work being created, for all time, considering that they usually record every performance and often release it to the public later in one form or another. The Stratos Ensemble always aims for a certain degree of emotional sentimentality during their performances as well, in an attempt to make that permanent moment all the more timeless. In this way, their performances are even more like artistic events than most conventional concert situations. But of course, that is all in the eye of the beholder.
The basic artistic direction of the ensemble's music, ever since it's inception, has been a long-time dream and idea of founding member Dean De Benedictis. Aside from him, The Stratos Ensemble is currently a band of circulating members, evolving over time based on member availability (although drummer Coco Roussel could be considered permanent now after sticking with the band loyally for 5 years, from 2015-20). The Stratos Ensemble does gear itself towards a concrete list of personnel, but it simply rides the tide according to whatever obstacles come up for it's members.
Dean De Benedictis uses methods like melodic motifs and sonic textures to help guide the general direction of the ensemble's performed sets, but only enough to trigger what is clearly a collaborative creation. In general, these players are all joining together to interactively sculpt new passages and musical realities by the sheer joy of their raw skill, talent, creativity and musical understanding.
Ever since the band's very first album in 2007, their main record label has been Dean's own Fateless Flows label. But they have also occasionally appeared on compilation albums for other labels and organizations.
Visit the music page for an audio glimpse into this musical concept and experience.
OUR PRESENT MAIN LINE-UP CONSISTS OF THESE MUSICIANS
Coco Roussel - drums and electronic drum pads
Bob Gross - bass & bass effects
Dean De Benedictis - piano, synths, embellishments, flute, melodica, voice, production
Members who are previous and/or are circulating:
Shaunte Palmer - trombone
David Strother - violin & violin effects
James Musser - guitar & guitar effects
Dean Pacarez - guitar
Brandon McGregor (guitar & effects)
Brian De Benedictis (B1) (spoken word)
Rod McDowell (bass)
Mick Stevens (bass)
Dave Boswell (guitar & guitar synth)
Jim Goetsch (sax and embellishments)
Frescia Belmar (bass)
Perry Lopez (drums and percussion)
Doug Lunn (bass)
Angie Swan (guitar)
Dylan McGee Jones (guitar & guitar effects)
Daniel Coffeng (guitar & guitar synth)
Brock Avery (drums)
Angelo Elonte (violin and 12 string guitar)
Kent Baxter (upright bass)
Brock Bowers (drums)
Carl Royce (upright bass)
Hector Quintanilla (drums)
OUR PRIMARY CAMERA MAN IS A BRILLIANT VIDEOGRAPHER
Chuck Parker - camera 1
The Previous And Original Stratos Ensemble:
When Dean started the Stratos Ensemble in 2004, it was a completely different lineup of players than it is today. At that time he called it the Strato Ensemble (taking out the 's' in Stratos). The old Strato lineup of players went far enough to perform on FM radio in 2004, and then the Fowler Museum at UCLA in 2005, and then they released their only full-length CD in 2007 called Drawn Straws. But that was the extent of the distance this old lineup would go, disbanding sometime in 2005, even before their first CD Drawn Straws was released. Eventually, between 2012 and 2013, Dean found time to carefully reform the ensemble with all-new players, presently resulting in a more dramatic and refined sound than that of the original years spent experimenting to find a solid stylistic identity.
Furthest Back Story, Explaining The Album "Drawn Straws":
In the fall of 2003, Dean De Benedictis, a former keyboardist for Brand X (yet better known for his electronic music as alias Surface 10), contacted fellow recording artists Giuseppe Patane (bass player from rock band Maata Haari), Andrea "Jako" Giacomini (drum player from rock band Socadia), and Takeshi Nishimoto (guitar player from progressive jazz duo I'm Not A Gun) to start a project. The intention of this project was to keep their chops up as well as to keep their sense of progressive-jazz roots intact. The result was an LA-based, improvisational-jazz ensemble yielding an alternative/progressive sound that can be loosely associate with that of Tortoise, Pat Metheny, Ozric Tentacles, and ECM jazz artists from the 70's and 80's. Fateless Music Records has compiled the ensemble's best jam sessions as a CDR release for 2007 called "Drawn Straws."
To purchase a copy of this original Strato Ensemble album, visit:
For more audio downloads of unreleased Strato Ensemble material, visit:
(Below are the old credits from the back of that first album.)
THE STRATO ENSEMBLE AT THIS TIME WAS:
Dean De Benedictis - keyboardist, programmer, producer
Andrea "Jako" Giacomini - drummer
Takeshi Nishimoto - guitar player
Giuseppe Patane - bass player
Here is a forward that was written by Dean on the back of the album cover of Drawn Straws:
TO THE LISTENER - From late 2003 to late 2004, myself, Dean De Benedictis, along with music colleagues Andrea Giacomini, Takeshi Nishimoto and Giuseppe Patane, banded together to record scattered sessions for a project based on the principal of liberation through improvisation. Rather than take the same atonal, sparsely-punctuated path into experimental jazz, so thoroughly explored and exploited through the generations, we decided to indulge our genuine interest in a modal approach. To us, this allowed for more aesthetic possibilities and qualities, such as theme and emotion.
Some of our pieces were marathons of length, edited down a fraction, which also pays a virtually-intended homage to the tradition of this genre. And, all the better that we exhibit how the music is indeed comprised of pieces, as apposed to being seen as "songs" of any kind (not that there is anything wrong with songs or song format in appropriate genres). Also, in the spirit of experimentation, the ensemble carried out creative impulses that could easily be interpreted by the listener as audio dropouts or blemishes, to which we affirm with utmost confidence were ninety-nine percent intentional.
We hope that, regardless of any individual’s possible tastes or preconceptions, the soul of the ensemble’s sincere-yet-unrefined intentions communicates outwardly, clearly and gracefully.