Click to read a review From the Daily Hampshire Gazette:
Jo Sallins pays tribute to Animals As Leaders with his Epic “Creatures of Logic”
Review by Jeff Turcotte, Drummer/Performer
You know life is funny in the way things flow and carry you along a certain path-- where a casual musical acquaintance from the 80’s, who had a really good band you used to like in your clubbing days, shows up at a high school performance to jam with your up-and-coming drummer son. Then, morphing into a personal friendship while your son, Joel Turcotte, flows along in the wake of this upbeat musical force of nature, eventually resulting in getting to know a young talented drummer, Zack Bevelacqua, who resides in Slovenia and also recommending a fine young guitarist, Chris Eriquezzo, to play a part in a massive musical project. This is my relationship with Jo Sallins and I’m glad to be a part of it.
If you don’t know Jo, then honestly, you’re missing out. This isn’t hyperbole that I am spouting here; the man truly is a musical force. I do not know anyone who is more dedicated to his craft than Jo. He is a consummate educator with an infectiously positive attitude that comes out in his clinics and his never- ending work to further music in our local communities. He lists himself as a Master Musician and he humbly can back that claim as a multi-instrumentalist who is constantly pushing his boundaries every day. Nowhere is this more evident than on the new project he has just released, comprised of a live performance DVD and two CD’s, which are the culmination of years of work.
When I was approached about writing a review on this song, the first thing I asked is, “Are you sure?” But yes, he was, and now after months and months of waiting, I was going to get to watch, and more importantly, hear this tribute to a band I am a big fan of myself. You have to keep in mind that this is outside of the realm of what one would normally expect musically from Jo Sallins. He is the personification of the funk, fusion, and jazz genres, but a progressive metal vibe? So, what would it sound like; where would he go with it? I have to say my expectations were high because I do know firsthand what went into putting this piece together!
Just a little back story on how this song came into being! Jo had gone to see his protégé, drummer Matt Garstka, who is a part of this excellent instrumental progressive metal band called Animals As Leaders! AAL is the birth child of guitarist Tosin Abasi whose unique blend of jazz harmonies and dissonant chords in a metal format give the band a fresh, edgy sound. As I understand it, after meeting Tosin and Javier Reyes, the other guitarist in AAL, Jo decided to write “Creatures of Logic” as a homage to the band.
The seed was planted and the piece started with some rough notes detailing the various time signatures scrawled on some notebook paper. Slowly, various piano grooves were worked out, eventually flowing into 4 musical sections that became a singular opus. Then the bass parts were conceived while Jo also collaborated with his musical muse and friend, Papa C, to come up with 60 different string/synth passages. Along the way, Jo’s son, Joe Lewis, aka Mr. 15, wrote the lyrics for a rap he would perform on the piece, as well as, a guitar solo worked out with Chris Eriquezzo, and finally, Zack Bevelacqua creating and performing an absolutely crazy 23-page drum chart. Put that all together and the recorded version clocks in at 20:01 minute. So, this song is clearly not for the faint of heart by any means. But obviously, it was never meant to be, and honestly, if you really want to get the full effect, you need to immerse yourself in the experience. Quality speakers are a must so you can hear all of the subtleties built into the audio portion.
I decided to watch the video version of the song my first time out. This is the bonus track added to his new Two Man Trio Live DVD, which I highly recommend. The video starts out with an ethereal image of a woman with a spoken word intro performed by Jo’s longtime friend Elisabeth Olivera. From there, it jumps right into the song itself with an extended video of Zack Bevelacqua while he is recording his drumming for the piece. The video is presented in either singular or multi-framed format with some subtle effects added in. There are a lot of intricate passages during this portion and watching Zack seamlessly navigate all of them really gives you true insight into the complexity of the music. This section gives way to a completely different flow musically with some nice imagery of Jo playing bass and keys. After this part, the music morphs into the foundation for the rap section which blasts out at you with a nice heavy dark vibe. The lyrics scroll across the bottom of the screen and that makes it much easier to correlate everything the first time out. Right at the end of the rap, the heavy vibe continues with video of Chris Eriquezzo going off on lead until the song finishes. My conclusion is that the video is a great way to experience this epic song and makes it more approachable for the average listener.
But now, after experiencing what can only be called an opus of progressive musical ideas expertly crafted into a singular cohesive song, it is time for me to truly listen to the music itself. I, too, am a musician and a big progressive music fan. Progressive music should take you on a journey evoking different emotions and piquing your interest with some complexity along the way-- reminiscent of songs like “Close to the Edge” by Yes, or “The Ikon” by Todd Rundgren, or even a classic acid rock song like “In-A-Gadda_Da-Vida” by Iron Butterfly! So many choices in that genre and now we can include “Creatures of Logic” in that catalog.
I have some high-end ear buds I always use, so I put in the CD War Or Peace and just shut my eyes and listen. Jo achieves what he intended and captures a progressive vibe with some metal overtones. Right from the start, Jo mixes up his interplay with Zack Bevelacqua, switching between intricate bass or keyboard patterns, backed up by various string/synth patterns and complimented by several solos. When I referred to 4 sections previously, this interplay comprises the 1st section for 10 minutes of what I can only refer to as coordinated musical mayhem, lol! You would have to listen to this many times to fully appreciate everything that is going on and I did. Section #1 peaks with some solid unison runs and then drops the bottom out completely and deftly moves into section #2, which to my ears, is classic Jo Sallins-- excellent bass solo with some nice keyboard interludes and more of a fusion style. This gives way to section #3 which has a brief mellow interlude and then transforms into this dark heavy beat. This is where the tastefully done rap by Joe Lewis begins and the music lays back again towards the end, just before it launches into section #4. The guitar solo here by Chris Eriquezzo really soars and both the bass and drums back it with such a heavy vibe! All in all, this is one hell-of-a song, nuff said!
Jo Sallins Brings Clarity in the Midst of Chaos with “Thou Shalt Not Kill?”
Review by Heshima Moja - Composer/Songwriter/Bassist/Vocalist
In a time when so many artists outside of the confines of popular music are challenging form, style, and cliche content, it would seem that anybody daring to do so, was just jumping on a train that is on a collision course with the musical establishment. However, for some, the work of pushing boundaries is not a new experiment; but instead, a way of life. Musician and Educator, Jo Sallins, has been pushing boundaries since the day he first touched an instrument. Drummer, Percussionist, Bassist, Pianist, Bandleader and Educator, Sallins seems to be driven by a singular motive-- to remain free of any constriction imposed by the musical establishment in order to promote his message of oneness and peace through music.
In his latest endeavor on the CD, War Or Peace, the opening track, “Thou Shalt Not Kill?” indicates that Sallins seems to have finally found the formula. While his earlier work seems to suggest that he struggled to synchronize his musical and philosophical ideas, this 19:31 piece of music moves rather seamlessly from opening Synth Solo, Piano accompaniment, to his signature brand of chop laden improvisations on bass, and into what has been uncharted territory for Sallins in the past-- space. Using the lush and contemporary orchestrations of celebrated composer Justin Casinghino as a backdrop, Sallins allows the music to breathe in a way that his previous work has not.
Whether it is musical maturity or a recognition that the human ear has its limits, he seems to feel much more comfortable in his proverbial skin. The horn section on the piece(Chuck Langford on Soprano Sax, Dan Hendrix on Trombone, Patrick Lennon on Trumpet, Adam Call on Reeds and Ahmed Gonzalez on Flute), is a beautiful textural contrast to the percussive and darker qualities of the rhythm section, filling the spaces left by the wide open harmonic structure. Sallins seems to take his time to develop his solos much more gracefully especially on his “tour de force” extended Piano Solo, the interplay between Drums and Percussion at the end of the track which sets the stage for an intense Crescendo! Make no mistake about it; in Thou Shalt Not Kill?, Jo Sallins is demonstrating the lesson of equity of voice. The music is simply the lens that he offers for the listener to consider the message to society. It is the unspoken lesson of the power of community in conversation that prevails here, more than the technical performances of each member of the ensemble. The roster of musicians, a combination of veteran musical collaborators such as Derrik Jordan who recorded all of the Strings on the recording, Bob "Papa C" Casinghino on Organ, and Greg Garstka on Guitar, deliver a seasoned quality that can only come with years of development and experience. There work is also pushed by the youthful fire and virtuosity of Abimael Robles on Drums and Alex Moran on Bass as well as Joe Lewis aka “Mr.15” whose MC skills help to create a well rounded performance.
If there is any criticism of the piece, it's that it will be unheard by so many radio audiences who would certainly enjoy it from beginning to end due to it's sheer length. However, maybe, in his own way, Sallins is sending a message to program directors, that it's time to bring back the radio format of an earlier time, where content was more important than format. Or maybe, he simply does not care, choosing to march forward as a drum major for change, instead of simply following the crowd.