Ages are believed to correlate to the rise and fall of mighty civilisations and cultural tendencies, with Aquarius traditionally ruling electricity, computers, democracy, humanitarianism, idealists, rebels and rebellion… so reads the Wikipedia entry.
It was no coincidence that the weekend I was exposed to “Hair” on Broadway, I should have on my travel schedule an encounter with Gregg Rossetti (please role the ‘R’s’ con brio), his band of merry men, his Lady April, and Lord Thomas Brislin, who wields a mighty axe; all chaperoned by Lady Jill Hughes-Kirtland.
Fair and long-haired leader Gregg is a student of Renaissance music while Sir Tom just joined 70s British progressive rock band Renaissance for its upcoming revival tour. The consistency in a certain tiny detail got me highly suspicious indeed.
The Renaissance (Rinascimento means ‘rebirth’) was considered a cultural advancement from the Middle Ages. The modus operandi of the Renaissance man was to champion ‘progress’. This ‘detail’ was to lead me to demand their inquisition at the watering hole known as Bar East.
As Jupiter aligned with Mars, my parallel universes were to move towards various head-on collisions.
This time, the scene is ‘just another Summer’s night’ in NYC. The drizzle would not abate as I walk the 9 minutes from the subway station to 1st Ave, between 89th and 90th Street.
Time check: 19:45; Place: Bar East. Target: New Jersey progressive metal band Suspyre. (#1)
The cantankerous members of Suspyre were yapping away as I approached. They were with their band manager Jill and keyboard extraordinaire Tom, who I met in 2007. “Hmm, another machination they call kismet..” I mutter under my breath. (#2)
We crossed the road to Starbucks for a private hoe-down.
The moon is in the 7th (coffee) house…and so were all of us.
The gavel goes down on the table with a bang! “The inquisitor wishes to know if this bunch has forsaken the classical rules of Traditional music by adopting the cardinal rules of Progressive music!”
“Tell me, when was the last time your songs consisted of uncommon musical song structures? Do you deviously plan time-signature changes? Do you cunningly coax the classical solo tradition into holding hands with jazz improv and psychedelic rock? I am sure I saw you chase speed and accuracy all at the same time!”
This well-endowed Renaissance bunch came complete with an athlete, a couple of technologists, a teacher or two, scientists, artists, writers and more.
“Who wishes to be the first to be queried?” I raise my voice.
Gabe who sat conveniently close to me admitted under duress to being cajoled into joining this motley crew.
Gabe Marshall. This drummer has tried them all: Concert and marching band in school; Drum set in a punk band; Drum line and jazz band in college before entering the New York School of Music. Gabe is the athletic one with a degree in nutrition and fitness. I could have sworn I saw him reach for his rapier from of the corner of my eye.
April Sese is the official fair maiden of the band. April’s parents were professional musicians. Her classical training began at 7 years of age and continued until sophomore year in college. Suspyre is her first real gig. Her role? To replicate the keyboard lines from the Gregg’s recordings. She is the only female rebel in the band.
Sam Bhoot the boisterous one, skipped the Wind section to pick from the Strings and Brass at the age of 10, and much to the chagrin of his teachers, proceeded to play the trumpet “way too loudly”. Classical guitar joined the ranks of the toys when he turned 14. He ‘caroused’ with local band Tyrannosaurus Rocks, and did his own thing before finding his way to the band of merry men as bassist.
Gregg Rossetti joined his 5th grade band playing saxophone. His guitarist dad gave young Gregg an instrument ‘just like his’ to spark his interest in music. But metal was fair game for Gregg for the shortest of time, before the ‘winter of his discontent’ brought on a renewed interest in the musical arts. Besides the piano and ‘a little guitar’, he took up bassoon and the viola da gamba in college, as a proper Renaissance student should. The ‘leader of the pack’ studied atonal music and jazz at MontClair State University, home of the Harry Partch Institute.
Andrew Distabile, the youngest of the merry men, also explored playing the keyboard during 5th grade with his guitarist dad in a band. He followed in senior Distabile’s musical footsteps, but precocious Andrew wanted to know the reason why he played what he played, and not just to play. Andrew began formal lessons in 7th grade for 3 years, and jazz theory for another 3 years until college and jobs got in the way. This philosopher’s interest in the making of musical sense keeps him ‘playing’ guitar on the outside of solos that “don’t quite fit but they really do”.
Clay Barton – known as “The Singer” – is the official court jester of the gang. Clay joined the Middle school choir, various garage bands, the college choir, and, soon after graduating, met gregarious Gregg.
As I leave the band to its merry-making in the club downstairs, I was faced with Sir Tom Brislin who, amongst the band of merry men has the most experience under his belt. Playing coy, he was unwilling to admit anything too revealing until we cosied up for a drink afterwards. But this he did divulge: He wants to see more honesty in the world. I cock an eyebrow. There was more to this man than meets the eye. (#3 read about Tom’s gig schedule.)
Jill Hughes-Kirtland,a shrewd business woman, keeps Suspyre in check when it comes to how their fans views them. With a finger on the pulse of the Progressive music world, she knows that the band must be given free reign when it comes to artistic expression. (#4)
We stand under the shade of the tree outside Bar East with the silvery moonlight dancing with the ghostly fingers of Jupiter … Renaissance is raising…
We were done with the inquisition for now. As we bid adieu, a minute of silence befalls all the talk about progress. Gregg had, in a exuberant manner, just reeled off the technological tools he uses; digital audio workstation Sonar, and software synths. He professes he likes to put his money in good mics and pre-amps and that he can spend 3 good hours perfecting a solo on a recording only to wonder how to replicate all that layering of lines in a live performance. (#5)
The romance of pushing the envelope could face defeat in the struggle of the survival of the fittest. Each and every member of the band has a full-time job, treating Suspyre as a weekend hobby. Gabe confesses that he plays with at least four different bands on top of being a personal trainer. 90% of Gregg’s income comes from teaching. The world in which we all have the freedom to promote ourselves and our music, put a track together with very little outlay and become successful in the popularity ratings even if we don’t have rich financial backing, could bite us in the behind. The members of Suspyre have vowed to keep progressive metal alive, and believe that progress is worth fighting for. Sir Tom says “Aye!”
We stand under the moonlit night as we watch … the dawning of a new age …
(#1) Progressive music originated in the ‘60-’70s. The British invasion inspired psychedelic rock, which, according to the wiki entry, splintered into heavy metal, progressive rock and art punk rock. The progressive rock movement reached its popularity peak in the mid 70s, and was headed by bands such as King Crimson, Yes, Genesis, Pink Floyd, Jetrho Tull and Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Other prog-music visionaries included Steve Reich, Stockhausen, and John Cage.
Neo progressive rock was the genre’s revival in the early 80s, with the 90s and 2000s welcoming progressive metal in the form of bands like Dream Theater.
The progressive music scene is considered these days semi-underground and its followers are as staunch as those of mainstream pop. Depending on what you favour, there is a wide variety of subgenres to choose from. Notable ones listed on UsaProgMusic include: Canterbury, Electronic, Fusion, Krautrock, Rock-in-Opposition, Space Rock, Symphonic, Zeuhl.
The current Suspyre line-up is Gregg Rossetti, Gabe Marshall, April Sese, Sam Bhoot, Andrew Distabile, Clay Barton. Formed in 2001, the band went through several configurations before arriving at the present line-up. To date, Suspyre has released three albums ‘The Silvery Image (05), The Great Divide (07), When Time Fades (08). They were signed to Sensory records in June 2008.
(#2) Jill Hughes-Kirtland, Tom Brislin and I first met at Moogfest07. The stage was BB King at Times Square and the headliner was Thomas Dolby of “She Blinded me with Science” fame. An impressive lineup of artists such as Jordan Rudess, Herb Deutsch, Gershon Kingsley, Adam Holzman (Miles Davis) and Don Preston (Frank Zappa) performed in honour of Robert Moog. There, John A Martinez and I as Xenovibes put on a show that Jill (who wrote a piece about us in UsaProgMusic) would describe as electric glamour!
(#3) Tom Brislin is the founding member of rock band Spiraling, and has worked with such artists as Yes, Meatloaf, Francis Dunnery, Debbie Harry and Marshall Crenshaw. He is currently a contributing editor for Keyboard Magazine.
(#4) Jill Hughes-Kirtland is founder and editor of UsaProgMusic, and band manager for Suspyre
(#5) My brief spiel on my interest area Extended Synth Technique
Video Clip Part un, 1 of 2: Suspyre:
Video Clip Part deux, 2 of 2: Jill Hughes and Tom Brislin:
Photos & videos (c) 2009 Shueh-li Ong (unless specified, all articles written by Shueh-li Ong bear the photography, videography and digital work of its author.)