Gregg Bendian / Steuart Liebig / Jeff Gauthier / G.E. Stinson

March 24, 2003

Bone Structure

Cryptogramophone 117

Four-piece Bone Structure is band that tries to mix the vigor and skill of original jazz-rock fusion with a lighter backbeat and the sort of dabbling in sampling and muted techniques pioneered by Euro improvisers. The result can be described as sort of headbangers meet foottappers meet headnodders.

How well does this work? Depending on the listeners’ tolerance for bombastic percussion and caterwauling guitar licks, anywhere between 40 to 70 percent of the time. Although there are many impressive sounds here, the four band members further weaken their presentation by offering too much of a good thing. BONE STRUCTURE (the CD) features 12 tunes and clocks in at nearly 77 minutes.

Not that this isn’t a sincere effort from all concerned. Percussionist Gregg Bendian, for one, recorded INTERZONE, an earlier CD saluting ProgRock pioneers Gentle Giant, and is part of a tribute band called The Mahavishnu Project, honoring guess who? Bendian has also played with Cecil Taylor, Ornette Coleman, Vinny Golia, John Zorn and ex-Beefheart sideman Zoot Horn Rollo. Guitarist G.E. Stinson founded fusion band Shadowfax in 1974. Despite that dubious achievement, he is also involved with more outside activities in Los Angeles, along with folks like modern kotoist Miya Masaoka and Bendian’s INTERZONE associates — Nels and Alex Cline.

Violinist Jeff Gauthier has played in symphony orchestras, with world/jazz musician Yusef Lateef and with Golia and Alex Cline. Bass guitarist Steuart Liebig’s playing partners have included funk pianist Les McCann, avant reedist Julius Hemphill, Golia, Bendian and singer/songwriter Michael Penn. All this experience may explain how Bone Structure (the band) can be as good as it is when it shuffles the hard rock echoes off the set.

On “Floating Bunraku”, for instance, sweet, wiggling violin lines mix it up with some speedy glockenspiel tones courtesy of Bendian. Stinson confines himself to Derek Bailey-like intermittent string plucks until a heavier, repeated bass guitar line moves the piece along. Soon Gauthier, who is also able to create both effects-pedal extensions to his fiddle or a shimmering flute-like tone, has come up with harsh staccato glissandos that entwine the guitar lines like a snake. The drummer’s talents here encompass varied rhythms, but like too many other tracks here, at the end the music just stops, rather then coming to a logical conclusion.

Two-stringed Oriental erhu-like tones work themselves out on the aptly named “Spirit Box” as Bendian’s heavy drumbeat is leavened by very miscellaneous percussion, perhaps another variation of the glockenspiel. Meanwhile “Faded Sun” makes its point with some African-style drumming, lightly accented, spacey violin lines and an undulating guitar section.

Then there’s the brief “Toothpick Fantasy”. Here Bendian’s right-handed piano arpeggios accompany Gauthier’s double-stopped, clear violin lines as if the two were playing a concerto. Of course concertos aren’t usually bisected by flailing dobro lines or string scratches near the guitar bridge. “Either Or” and “Nomad” feature arrhythmic drum parts with shadowing bass guitar sections. Soon, though, the rippling percussion serves as the landing strip as gyrating fiddle lines and resonating guitar fills ricochet off one another.

Except for what surprisingly sounds like sampled vocals from a classical Carnatic singer and the giggles of a young girl which mix with wild cymbal sweeps, fuzztone guitar runs and surf bass runs on “Mutoscope”, the longest and final track, too many of the other tunes have licks that sound, well … expected. There are more than a few stratospheric, probing, guitar-god heroics; Brothers Johnson-style bass guitar thumb pops; echoing fun-fusion electric fiddle fantasias; and overstuffed drum beats that are as predictable as they are regular. Loud and snotty yes, but not particularly young or original is the band.

Which is too bad. For on tunes like the ones already cited, Bone Structure proves that it can bring something original to a genre that has already been subsumed by happy-faced smooth jazz. If the band can literally lightened up and drag itself from the 1970s into the 21st century, the next CD may be something to listen to all the way through.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Muscle Tone 2. Plasma Wave 3. Floating Bunraku 4. Nomad 5. Ether Or 6. Steel Hair 7. Spirit Box 8. Toothpick Fantasy 9. Demagogue 10. Lock It Down 11. Faded Sun 12. Mutoscope

Personnel: Jeff Gauthier (electric and acoustic violins); G.E. Stinson (electric guitars, dobro, implements); Steuart Liebig (bass guitars); Gregg Bendian (drums, glockenspiel, piano)