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Gregg Bendian: Inner Flame, Musical Visions

Ian Patterson By

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AAJ: The Moogfest last year at BB King's Blues Club brought together Keith Emerson, Jan Hammer and the Mahavishnu Project amongst others. What was that like?

GB: Playing with Jan Hammer, being his band for a night was a dream come true. It was incredibly exciting just rehearsing with him. We all had known his songs for many years and we had actually performed them in the Mahavishnu Project before ever meeting him.

He came to hear us at the first VishnuFest in the summer of 2005 and at that point he felt comfortable that if he were to play live again we would be able to come in and play his music. So when he was asked to play and to be honored at Moogfest 2006 he said, "If you get me the Mahavishnu Project to be my backup band, then I'll do it. So as you can imagine, it was an honor to be chosen by him and then to actually spend time working and hanging with him.

He was also very complimentary of my piano trio disc, Change (Aggregate Music, 2005). I was so honored that he took the time to listen to it. The MoogFest performance was his first in America since 1990, and it was quite exciting to play those pieces from Oh Yeah (Nemperor/Sony, 1976), The First Seven Days (Nemperor/Sony, 1975) and [guitarist Jeff Beck's] )Wired (Epic, 1976) with him.

It was a wonderful evening for Jan and his fans, many of whom, including his children, had never had the chance to see him play live. Jan had a good time and he played so great! The show's been recorded for DVD, so hopefully that will come out some time this year.

AAJ: Do you have any ambitions to record Apocalypse, or perhaps conduct an orchestral recital of that work?

GB: Of course, yes. It would be a huge undertaking. Return To The Emerald Beyond includes my string quartet arrangement of another Mahavishnu gem, "Smile of the Beyond, from Apocalypse. In a way, working from Visions of the Emerald Beyond—and going back to Apocalypse—gives me quite a clear picture of what would be involved. It would be a matter of finding the right orchestra, finding the right conductor, among other things.

I would love to do this for Sony Classical. I've done some Mahavishnu archival work for Sony Legacy and of course it's a matter of budget and interest higher up. I don't know that there is a lot of interest in a company like Sony. So, it's in mind, It's just a matter of whether it happens in the next two years, five years, or ten years. But it is something that I've discussed with John and he said: "If anybody can do it, you guys are the ones.

AAJ: Do you think the Mahavishnu Project will end once you've recorded all the Mahavishnu Orchestra material or can you see it continuing in one form or another?

GB: I would hope it can continue. There are a lot of places around the world where we haven't played this music. There are places the Mahavishnu Orchestra didn't perform that would want to hear this music performed live. So we have a bit of a job to do in terms of continuing to spread the word.

I also think there are additional musical possibilities for the band. I'm more and more interested in playing with other musicians and having more and more collaboration going on in the music, and more and more abstraction. At the moment it's difficult for me to see an end point. It's a thing that keeps feeding itself—just like any other form of great music.

AAJ: You studied classical percussion under Gary van Dyke of the New Jersey Percussion Ensemble; do you get much opportunity to perform in a more classical context these days?

GB: I also work in contemporary classical composition and right now I'm working on a CD of my music for strings and a CD of my solo percussion works.

AAJ: What other projects do you currently have in the pipeline?

GB: Now I'm working on a duo record with guitarist Richard Leo Johnson for Cuneiform, and I'm hoping to do another Mahavishnu Project recording, which I think will be all original compositions. Then there's also a trio I've been doing with Glenn and Adam which is looking at the Tony Williams Lifetime material, Miles Davis material, as well as Mahavishnu material. I'm also producing live recordings from The Bottom Line archive which will be part of a Koch box-set featuring great jazz artists like The Brecker Brothers, Tony Williams Lifetime [with Allan Holdsworth], John McLaughlin Trio, and the Cobham-Duke Band.

AAJ: Obviously Billy Cobham and Tony Williams are big influences; what other drummers particularly inspire you?

GB: My big hero is Jack DeJohnette. Just in terms of his pure musicality, his range of endeavor, the sound he gets from the drums. He's just the consummate drummer and musician. And of course, before him, Roy Haynes and Max Roach. Max Roach has been a tremendous influence on me as well. I had the great honor of spending a couple of weeks with him on the road back in '89. I was on tour with Cecil Taylor's group and at that time Max was on tour with his quartet. Max took me under his wing, and took a liking to me and was very supportive of my playing with Cecil's band. He told me a lot of stories and I was able to ask him a lot of questions. I was twenty-five at the time. That was a huge inspiration. Life-changing.


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