THE JOURNEY ZONE
March 2, 2004: Steve Smith
July 10: 2004: Infinity
June 2, 2008: Journey: Revelation
May, 2011: Journey: Eclipse
Steve Smith and Buddy's Buddie's at Sculler's Jazz CLub
Tuesday, March 2, 2004
Steve Marcus, tenor and soprano saxes
Andy Fusco, alto sax
Mark Soskin, piano
Baron Browne, bass
Steve Smith, drums
The winter months here in the Northeast have been seasonably mild this year. Still, winter can be merciless with daylight hours shorter than usual and with the limitations of outdoor activity (aside recreational). We spend most of the time waiting. But as the seasons change so does our daily routine. It so happens that this year we were dismayed to find that Vital Information was not scheduled to tour locally. Steve Smith, along with Baron Browne are no strangers to us. Steve Marcus, Andy Fusco and Mark Soskin all form, "A Celebration of the Music and Legacy of Buddy Rich", Buddy’s Buddies.
The last time we attended this venue Count’s Jam Band Reunion performed. As I remembered, we sat comfortably next to the stage. Seating was at capacity, with an exceptional view of the “Charles” and the cityscape. With the near completion of the “Big Dig” project, the futuristic vision of Metropolis is evident. Attendees comprised of; Berklee College of Music, Zildjian family, family members, friends and jazz aficionados. Steve Smith spoke of his experience meeting Buddy Rich in 68’ at a Boston jazz festival. He was intimidated at first (warranted by rumors of Buddy Rich), but his mother insisted that he meet him. Steve stated that he must have caught Buddy in his better moods. It was an honor to see Steve’s parents. Buddy Rich Alumnus; Steve Marcus and Andy Fusco were not as fortunate. Each had their own tales of the trials and tribulations touring with Buddy. The crowd was captivated with the story telling. Mark Soskin performed on Steve Smith’s double DVD Drumset Technique/History of the U.S. Beat. Television performance credits include The Equalizer and HBO hit series, Sex and The City.
We still raise the correlation of Steve as a prior Journey band member. This can not be disputed. Steve’s touring schedule for last year (and the current) establishes his devotion and labor of love to percussionists and to the music of jazz, past and present. If you are expecting to see and hear a past Journey drummer…. The audience and atmosphere is of a different caliber. My wife’s attention was focused on a certain set being played, it’s West Side Story. I can thank my father-in-law for my wife’s appreciation towards the Broadway musicals. And I thank you dad for experiencing the Big Band jazz era with you. My son thanks Journey for not having to follow mainstream music.
Special thank you goes to Dave DiCenso for signing the crash (you now share it with Steve)
Infinity: The Journey Tribute at Round Lake Beach, IL
July 10, 2004
Band members: Bob Biagi, James Cairo, Vincent Ribando, Len Schillaci, Kevin Willison, Dennis Zarobsky
Crew: Scott Flaws, Bill Rueschaw, Zach Willison
Infinity was the headliner at the first annual Beach Fest in Round Lake Beach, Illinois. It was a very cool night in an open field, but for an intial attempt at a community gathering, the attendance was respectable. Most of the crowd was spread out over the festivities, until Infinity took the stage and drew everyone into their world of classic rock, 80’s rock, and a few newer hits. Several of those in attendance came to Round Lake Beach from Chicago, even as far away as Indiana, just to hear this band. Some were fans from previous shows, and some showed up just from word-of-mouth recommendation.
Infinity plays the music, and plays it well. The song list follows, but as I learned later, the band never writes a song list before the show, nor is anything set in stone. They choose to let the audience be their guides, and often during this show, they announced that the song they were about to play was a request. My first show with Infinity was quite impressive: this band is not just about the music, pleasing the fans is equally important to them. During “Open Arms” the band brought out Megan, who had been invited to sing a song on stage at her high school with Journey’s Jonathan Cain when he was recently in the Chicago area. The teen’s duet with singer Bob Biagi was a crowd-pleaser. For the encore, a local vocalist joined them on stage for an impressive rendition of “You Shook Me All Night Long”. Several times the town trustees were invited on stage to help the band out with a song, which added lots of fun to the show for the trustees and the audience. I spoke with a couple members of the town board, who were just thrilled to have the experience, and loved being on stage with such a fun group.
One highlight of the performance shows how far Infinity will go to bring the audience into the show with them, and encourage audience participation in a way I have not yet experienced. During the band’s “Bon Jovi set”, singer Bob Biagi leaves the stage to tour the audience. Throughout the three-song tribute to the New Jersey band, Bob roamed the crowd, sharing the mike with anyone willing to put their vocals on the line with him. Everyone was given the chance to join in, young and old, whether or not you knew the words, which lent a couple laughs to the show as well.
The Queen medley added another guest to the stage, a guest who stole the show out from under Infinity, even if for just a little while. Drummer Vincent Ribando’s son, also known as Little Vinny, gave his dad a break and sat in on the drum set for the entire medley. Little Vinny is not just talent waiting to happen, but he has an amazing secret: he played the entire 10-minute montage backwards! Vincent is left-handed, while little Vinny is a righty, making for some pretty complicated work for a youngster. But he never missed a beat, and drew quite a round of applause from the audience.
The 90-minute-plus set covered a huge variety of music: from Journey to Poison, Ozzy Osbourne to Bryan Adams. The crowd was enthusiastic throughout; even the young children in the audience could be seen running from the fest amusements to the stage area to join in the fun for the Jimmy Eat World hit, “In the Middle”. The wide range of selections covered so many hits, there was something for everyone in the crowd.
If Journey, classic rock, a wide variety of music, audience participation, or a band that just loves what they do so much that it shines brighter than the stage lighting is what you are looking for in live music, then Infinity should definitely be on your must-see list. They are not only talented, but such a tight-knit group of friendly, personable guys, that they even encourage their crew to participate with each aspect of the band….the crew also participated in the Infinity interview. It’s refreshing to see a crew so appreciated and respected, but after just a few minutes of observing this band with their fans, and speaking with them one-on-one, it’s really not surprising at all.
Roll with the Changes
Don’t Stop Believin’
Open Arms (with special guest, Megan)
Stone in Love
The audience “tour”: Livin’ on a Prayer, You Give Love a Bad Name, It’s My
Queen Medley (with special guest, Little Vinnie): Bohemian Rhapsody, We
Will Rock You, We are the Champions
Talk Dirty to Me
Hard to Handle
Lovin’, Touchin, Squeezin’
Anyway You Want It
Feelin’ That Way/Anytime
Walk This Way
Pour Some Sugar on Me
Rock of Ages
Enter Sandman (snippet of a work-in-progress)
My Own Worst Enemy
In the Middle
Summer of ‘69
Who’s Cryin’ Now (snippet)
Wheel in the Sky
You Shook Me All Night Long (with guest vocalist)
Here I Go Again
Click HERE for Jan's pictures of Infinity.
June 2, 2008
Reviewer: BEN RATLIFF, NEW YORK TIMES
Still Holding on to the Feeling: Journey in 2008
From the late 1970s to the mid-’80s, Journey’s hits were lavish pop bulletins conjuring amber waves of strip malls. Its melodies resolved quickly over four-four grooves, and the band didn’t indulge much in suite form or rarefied instrumental interludes. Neal Schon was its front-and-center guitar player, bending notes into parabolas as big and sexy as rainbows. Steve Perry was its great theatrical tenor, hitting high notes with a likably strained, through-the-noise voice and Sam Cooke-type embellishments. Once it refined its formula, Journey was pure suburban-teen romantic inspiration. By contrast, Boston sounded more street and more mystical; Styx and Kansas were Trig 1 and 2.
Mr. Perry hasn’t worked with Journey since a reunion album in 1995, and after he left, the band, led by Mr. Schon, hired two other touring lead singers. Recently, Mr. Schon secured the services of another singer, Arnel Pineda, a 40-year-old from the Philippines whom he found on YouTube and who sounds a great deal like Mr. Perry. “Revelation,” produced by Kevin Shirley, is the resuscitated band’s covering-all-bases album, with 11 new songs, 11 old songs and a live DVD. (Like the Eagles’ most recent record, it is available exclusively at Wal-Mart and the band’s own Web site, journeymusic.com.)
Despite the recent surge in iTunes downloads of the old hit “Don’t Stop Believing” after it closed last year’s final episode of “The Sopranos,” this is a band with roughly the same audience it left behind about 25 years ago, a comfort machine with no subcultural clout. “Revelation” seems like a record to justify a tour, and there’s one this summer, with Heart and Cheap Trick as supporting acts.
And though the album doesn’t transcend this purpose, it is, actually, good. Mr. Pineda, who sings hard and with the appropriate vulnerability, gives it some distinction. Beyond that, the band seems to have taken rock vitamins: it feels alive.
With the exception of “Wildest Dream” — slightly modern-rock, slightly Foo-Fightery — “Revelation” operates with its own kind of Schillinger System, an almost clinical set of chord modulations, solo-lengths and emotional progressions. You find yourself reeled in exactly where the band wants you to be, to the degree that it wants you to be. Those lyrics! Within the first minute and a half, you’re given a huge melody and a full story line: a pair of young lovers have run away, hit hard times and decided with finality that they won’t give up on love. Journey, in a nutshell.
With this band, faith counts, and being an average person counts; hence the new song “Faith in the Heartland,” about young lovers somewhere in the breadbasket who won’t give up their dreams in a fading town, and hence, on slightly less epic ground, a track written by Mr. Schon and the keyboardist Jonathan Cain, “Change for the Better,” about recovering from alcoholism. (Though take away the phrase “clean and sober” and the song could be about emerging from any bad stretch, psychological, spiritual or physical.)
As for the second disc of re-recorded hits — including “Only the Young,” “Open Arms” and “Don’t Stop Believing” — it sounds pretty much like old Journey, down to the vocal details, with more acrobatic and whammy-bar-enhanced guitar solos. If you’re a fan, take the compliment: the members of Journey will not let go of you. They believe in you.
Reviewer: Ross Muir, FabricationsHQ
Hell Freezes Over
“I’m in love with this record, which I haven’t said about one of our albums for a long time. It’s a rock record and it sounds amazing.” So said guitarist Neal Schon during promotional pre-release commentary for Journey’s latest album, Eclipse.
But then he would say that.
Because Eclipse is unashamedly a guitar driven album, more heavy rock than melodic rock and chock full of Schon’s trademark harmonics from fusion-istic fret board runs to melodic harmonies. Not forgetting the big riffs, power chords and solo after solo (after solo).
Schon was clearly the driving force from conception to end product and Journey’s founder member and only ever-present hasn’t been this heavily featured on a Journey album since the band’s rock-fusion days some three and a half decades ago. But that was then – as time passed it became a very different Journey and we find ourselves now in a very different musical climate. A re-imagined one…
I have limited interest in classic rock or melodic rock acts that have lost key creative personnel but continue, or regroup, in some re-imagined shape or form. For me, many such bands become brands and are no longer classic rock but retro-rock, with any new material almost forced, by fan base expectation and the current musical climate, to try and recapture the classic or signature sound. Formulated rock.
In 2008 Journey emerged from a catalogue of self inflicted damage, diminishing returns and three singers in a period of eighteen months to re-establish themselves as a commercially successful act with YouTube find Arnel Pineda on vocals and a Billboard Top 5 album in Revelation.
Arnel Pineda’s story and the little guy’s big pipes were what put Journey back in the charts and many fans regard Revelation as one of the band’s finest ever releases. But from my perspective it falls into the category of formulated rock as described above, recreating the sound and song-structures of the band’s signature years with Steve Perry.
Yet here I am reviewing the follow up to that critically acclaimed album, discussing a release by a band that in recent years I’ve been highly critical of and who haven’t overly interested me musically since Trial By Fire (the last hurrah of the classic line-up) fifteen years ago.
First an Eclipse, then Hell freezes over.
That said, and unlike Neal Schon, I’m not in love with this record nor do I believe it to be any sort of Revelation (sorry). But that’s exactly what intrigued me about Eclipse and attracted me to it the first place – the fact that it isn’t any sort of Revelation.
With Eclipse Journey have taken a complete left-turn from Revelation, producing their most interesting album of the Millennium and, in places, some pretty vibrant rock music that doesn’t conform to the standard Journey template.
Just about every Journey album (certainly since the 80’s and the beginning of Journey’s dominant era) has led off with a strong opening remark and/ or a song that has become a Journey classic. ‘City of Hope’ is no different. Opening with a ringing salvo from Schon, it’s a guitar driven number with a punchy chorus and catches that balance between commercial appeal and heavy rock. It also hints loud and clearly at what to expect over the next eleven songs and sixty-plus minutes when the final eighty seconds kicks in with Deen Castronovo’s double-time drum beat and Schon’s flurry of notes running the song to a driving conclusion. On previous albums songs such as ‘City of Hope’ would have faded out earlier as the repeat chorus’ took firm hold. On Eclipse, it cranks up rather than fades away. It’s a statement of intent.
‘Human Feel’ is another beefy up-tempo rocker, driven by Castronovo’s heavy rock shuffle on the kit with a chunky guitar riff over the top. The two-minute finale of soloing over the groove of the song hints at the rock fusion workouts of yesteryear.
Mentioning Castronovo in a Journey review before any remarks about Jonathan Cain’s contribution confirms Eclipse is a little different. Cain’s traditional piano parts and keyboard embellishments aren't quite posted missing in action, but they take more of a back seat on Eclipse. The introduction and closing reflection of ‘Tantra’ feature Cain in a more familiar role, but these particular piano-vocal pieces are overly theatrical, unnecessary to the song and sit uncomfortably on a rock record like Eclipse.
But the album isn't a total eclipse of the lighter side of Journey or their trademark hooks and sounds. ‘Anything is Possible’ is a great little mid-tempo number with some perfectly placed melodic guitars fills (although it too has the final minute dedicated to Schon’s guitar runs) while the power-pop of ‘Someone’ wouldn’t have been out of place on Revelation. ‘To Whom it May Concern,’ with its hooky little intro and outro, is more akin to traditional Journey power balladeering. It should have closed out the album but track sequencing has it placed third from the end (more on which later).
But there is a clear rock vibe and specific tone to Eclipse, which unfortunately is sometimes taken too far with one too many solos or over produced arrangements. ‘Chain of Love’ has a great Zeppelin's 'Kahmir' meets Rainbow's 'Stargazer' vibe, and 'Resonate' delivers a brooding, darker edge, but both walk that fine line between powerful and ponderous.
And then there's ‘She’s a Mystery.’ For the first four and a half minutes its lighter arrangement (very similar to the excellent but never fully completed ‘Liberty’ from the Frontiers sessions) brings a lovely change of pace to proceedings with some subtler guitar shapes thrown around behind Arnel Pineda's understated vocal – until the final two minutes. The song steps up to another big riffed workout featuring Pineda and Schon, almost competing with each other to see who can pitch the highest. It kills both the vocal and musical moment created by Mystery’s original form.
Others are perfect just as they are however. The infectious melodic hard rock and roll of 'Ritual' would sit comfortably on any Journey album.
The instrumental ‘Venus’ closes the album and although it starts with purpose, repeating the opening theme from ‘To Whom it may Concern,’ it comes across as a studio jam workout featuring big fills from Castronovo and Schon spending his final few Eclipse minutes throwing more fast and furious shapes across the fret board.
In a classic case of less is more, I feel Eclipse would have been better served by omitting ‘Venus,’ removing the last two minutes of ‘She’s a Mystery’ and editing out the Disney meets Andrew Lloyd Webber parts from 'Tantra.' And it wouldn't hurt to move the track order around a little and have 'To Whom it May Concern' close out the album with it’s message to those with power to enact change to get their act together.
Talking of messages, there actually is one threaded through some of the lyrics and many of the songs, which came from a concept of Schon’s and elaborated on by Cain when he described Eclipse as an album “with some spiritual themes to it…we just felt like it was time to send a message to the world about how we feel about life in general.”
That’s all fine and dandy but it does raise another problem – very few Journey fans will get, be looking for or, quite frankly, want that sort of message from their Journey songbook. And although there are clues to that message in some of the song titles the fact remains it’s a message lost in the sonics.
Proof of the latter comes from the fact that no-one else seems to be picking up on the concept behind Eclipse – it didn't even get a mention on what is without doubt the most positive review Eclipse will ever receive…
Über-Journey fan Andrew McNeice over at melodicrock.com gave Eclipse a glowing report complete with obligatory over the top review, a 100% rating and concluding that the album “…is a masterpiece of musical genius.” Now that’s the very definition of an over the top review.
Andrew also went to great lengths to commend every song, especially ‘Tantra.’ It does feature what is without doubt Arnel Pineda's best vocal performance to date but the song is overly long and melodramatic in its presented arrangement. Another reviewer actually described the song as “ghastly.”
Which all goes to prove that not only is one man’s musical masterpiece another’s musical melodrama, Journey continue to create controversy, contradiction and heated debate like no other band. Especially in the vocal department...
Discussion on just how awesome or over-rated Arnel Pineda is still continues, three years after his Journey debut. And then there's the continual comparisons to Steve Perry, unarguably one of the greatest pop/ rock singers of all time. Arnel Pineda has a great set of pipes and has some great moments on Eclipse, but this is a band destined to be forever haunted by The Voice of Journey Past.
However the voice of Journey present – on Eclipse – isn’t Arnel Pineda. It’s Neal Schon. Which leads to the obvious summation and question…
Eclipse: 100% rated classic Journey album or overly intense guitar-rock Schon-fest?
The objective truth of the matter, as is usually the case in such debates, is probably somewhere in between.
Eclipse will disappoint or confuse many Greatest Hits fans and the Don't Stop Believing Glee clubbers, but this is a good, hard-edged rock album. It contains some flaws but also carries some great moments.
Now if you'll excuse me I have to help some elderly guy called Old Nick clear some seriously thick ice away from his house.
Last Updated 02 June, 2011 (DHG)