Reviews Of "Drawn Straws" (Below)
John B / Radio Indy
The Stratos Ensemble - Drawn Straws
I don’t normally think of myself as an ambient free jazz lover but this CD is sizzling with life and originality and is easily one of the most impressive CDs I've heard this year.
If you're a muso then you'll probably remember taking part in amazing jam sessions that felt sooo good until you listen back to the recording - the hear'n'now can sadly be so deceptive! But this CD sounds like that jam session that went just right - not just in places, but throughout. Like the pieces actually have good form that flows and develops and devoid of dead or sub-standard sections. I take a very humble hat off to these guys!
With maybe a passing reference to Weather Report this CD flows with a liquid intimacy if compared to the English reserve of say National Health or Hatfield and the North - though clearly running with Van der Graaf Generator wierdnesses and cooler latter-day Bowie ambience. It’s not just that it dares to journey close to the edge and back; much of it is truly beautiful – like heaven might sound?
Strato Ensemble — Drawn Straws
(no#, 2007, CD)
Hovering somewhere between jazz-rock fusion and explorative electronic sounds, this group of improvisors is led by keyboardist Dean De Benedictis, who has already received great reviews in our pages as Surface 10 and with his ambient electronic based releases on the Spotted Peccary Label. On these nine expansive workouts, the Strato Ensemble involves anywhere from two to four musicians, track depending, including bassist Guiseppe Patane (Matta Haari), drummer "Jako" Giakomini (Socadia) and guitarist Takeshi Nishimoto (I'm Not A Gun), with occasional participation from saxophonist Jim Goetch. The opening sidelong salvo "Empowering Gamesake" covers everything from subtle ambient swells to high-intensity group pyrotechnics, going through numerous cycles along the way giving each player plenty of stretching room, but it also shows the spirited improvisational telepathics of the full ensemble. There is no doubt, by the time one reaches the 24 minute mark, that you've wrapped your ears around something very special. That one track alone is worth more than the price of admission, but the creative juices continue to flow freely for nearly another hour, sometimes in similar lengthy spellbinding sorties, other times in shorter vignettes involving subsets of the full group. Fans of 70s Crimson in improvisational mode, early Weather Report, and pure improv groups like Cloud Chamber would do well to check out Drawn Straws.
Doug Fergusion / SourGrapesWinery.com
The Strato Ensemble – Drawn Straws
- Vancouver, British Columbia - The Strato Ensemble was formed in 2003 by keyboardist Dean De Benedictis, who approached fellow recording artists Andrea "Jako" Giacomini (drums), Takeshi Nishimoto (guitar), and Giuseppe Patane (bass) about collaborating together and recording some music. The fruit of this project is an album of entirely improvised modern fusion jazz songs. Their jam sessions were recorded and the best material was put onto the album, Drawn Straws, which was released in 2007. It was an experiment in mixing the old with the new; incorporating modern synthesizers and guitar while enjoying the freedom of improvised classic jazz.
The end result is mind-blowing. It's now a treasured album in my collection that I hold very dear as it continues to challenge me and excite me, while also taking me back a few years to a very crucial time in my life.
Drawn Straws begins with "Empowering Gamesake," which is alone worth the price of the album. Not only is the song amazing, but it is also noteworthy because of its extremely long run time. At over 24 minutes, it should run the risk of getting boring, but does not. The song never really sits still and flows flawlessly from one movement to the next. It is still clearly improvised because you can hear imperfections in the timing at certain moments. Also, there is a certain spontaneity to the song that I think couldn't actually be written. Improvised music just has that sort of unpredictable sound to it that's hard to capture on paper.
The Strato Ensemble - Drawn Straws (2007)"Thou Dire Lull" is a quick intermission between that track and the next epically long one. And by quick I mean it's 4 minutes on the dot. While longer than a lot of pop songs, it flies by. The song is quite calm and relaxing, borrowing heavily from lounge jazz, while still being distinctly modern.
Unlike the first track, "The Motion of You" doesn't go through too many movements in its 18-minute run time. This one seems to just slowly build from a quiet minimalist introduction into a decently heavy percussion and saxophone sparring session (The saxophone was overdubbed later by Jim Goetch, but was similarly improvised. He did the same thing on a later track, “On Thundering Sky Larkers Likeness”). Though it never reaches a definite climax, the song does go through a compelling journey.
The Strato EnsembleThe album jumps a bit from the Jazz aspect, while not abandoning it entirely, and dives into some ambient songs. Apparently the two styles mix together very well. "Trenches" proves to be one of the most subdued tracks. It brings a welcome calm after the lengthy first half of the album. Actually, the whole mid section of the album (tracks 4 through 7) is full of the shorter, calm ambient jazz songs. It's actually quite nice as they usually stick to more simple musical concepts. The charm is in the subtleties. Out of these, "Galaxing" is the masterpiece. The electronic skeleton of the song is magnificent and it takes some great turns near the end.
The jazz aspect takes the lead again in "On Thundering Sky Larkers Likeness." At 9 and a half minutes long, it fits well with the earlier half of the album in both length and style. It feels the most improvised as it often tends to wander, but never strays far away from the core body of the song. There are some really amazing moments captured in here though. The album finishes with "Higher Loosing," which very much feels like a closing track. It is essentially some loose guitar improv along side a cool synth loop. The song is most rewarding on headphones, but works well in any setting calling for quiet music.
The Strato EnsembleReally, it is not bad considering I found the album completely by fluke as I was browsing through CDBaby.com (The cover art caught my eye). This is likely the single best purchase I made from there. I can't express my love enough for this album. It achieves so much and does so seemingly effortlessly. It's a true testament to the musicians as they literally create these amazing pieces of music from their own collective creativity.
I have found no promises for a follow up album from the band so this might be a stand alone release, however, Dean De Benedictis has a whole collection of solo material and the other musicians are attached to other independent bands. Drawn Straws serves as an auditory snapshot of their musical journey in that point of time and celebrates the beauty in spontaneity from professionals who love their craft. It's the kind of music that is so under appreciated these days, but it just bursting with creativity and ingenuity.