mainstay on the American East Coast, instrumental jazz-rock fusion
scene for the better part of the past 15 years, the group known as
4Front dont release albums very often but when they do
its worth hearing. Case in point is their long awaited 2013
CD comeback entitled Malice In Wonderland. At
the core of 4Front are three excellent musiciansdrumming master
Joe Bergamini, guitarist / keyboardist Zak Rizvi and
bassist Frank LaPlaca. Having worked together on several 4Front
releases over the past 15 years, the combination and chemistry of
these three musicians is quite incredible. One of the most underrated
and unknown among the finest fusion guitarists on the world stage,
Rizvi composed the bulk of the tracks here but Bergaminis sonic
drumming continues to drive the powerhouse sound of 4Front. Since
1993, Bergamini has also played drums in the Rush tribute band known
as Power Windows as well as playing in the reformed version of progressive
rockers Happy The Man and he continues to bring that same sense of
professionalism into 4Front. Its no wonder Bergamini cites 1970s
bands such as Mahavishnu Orchestra, Happy The Man, Rush and Return
To Forever with Al DiMeola as big influences. If you enjoy those jazz-rock
fusion bands and other world renowned instrumental jazz-rock bands
with soaring electric guitars and powerhouse drums youll completely
enjoy 4Front. Malice In Wonderland is 21st century jazz-rock
played to perfection. www.JoeBergamini.com
presents an interview with
Joe Bergamini of 4FRONT
Can you provide the mwe3.com readers with a little history behind
the making of the new 4Front CD, Malice In Wonderland? Where
and when was the album written and recorded Its not often
4Front release new albums. Whats been the reaction overall to
this new 4Front CD among long time fans and loyalists and can you
say something about the cool Malice In Wonderland CD artwork?
JOE BERGAMINI: If you look at our albums, about half the tracks
are composed by Zak Rizvi, and the other half are pretty much written
as a band, although Frank LaPlaca usually comes in with one or two
fairly complete songs as well. For the songs that Zak has written,
I think that a careful listener can tell that they are extremely well
composed and planned out ahead of time. This all pretty much comes
from Zak, who I feel is a total genius when it comes to composition
and arrangement. On those songs, Frank and I follow his ideas pretty
closely. In the case of the drum parts, I come up with my own fills
and nuances to the grooves, but I have no problem playing a part that
Zak has programmed on a demo if it feels right. And he is such a great
musician that it often feels right!
As far as the other songs are concerned, we got together over the
course of, in this case, a couple of years to jam and work out the
details of the arrangements. We would record our rehearsals, and just
use those recordings to figure out when we felt the songs were polished
enough to be considered finished.
true, as you say, that we don't release albums very often. This is
mainly because we have different gigs in the music industry that really
pay the bills, to be honest, and 4Front is more of a labor of love.
I certainly would love to spend more time on 4Front if we were to
get the opportunity to play a couple of progressive festivals or do
a short tour. So far, Malice in Wonderland has sold better
than any of our previous recordings, and we are simply ecstatic that
our fans have waited for this recording so patiently, and received
it with such open arms. I think one thing that helped with this record
was the enthusiastic reception from the Rush fan base. Through my
job as senior editor with Hudson Music, I worked on a DVD and book
project with Neil Peart. During the promotion for these products,
I became acquainted with some of the folks that run the various Rush
fan websites, and they were unbelievably receptive in helping me to
get the word out about the new record.
Zak and I are both huge Rush fans, and during the production process
for the Neil Peart Taking Center Stage projects, I had the
chance to work with famed Rush graphic designer Hugh Syme. As I got
to know him a little better, I asked him to do the artwork for 4Front.
I think fans would be interested to know that Hugh demanded to hear
the music first, to get familiar with it so that he would be able
to give us the appropriate imagery for the artwork. I think it goes
to show the high level of integrity and creativity that he brings
to the table. We are absolutely thrilled that he did the artwork for
this album, and we totally love it.
How would you describe the musical and personal chemistry between
you, guitarist Zak Rizvi and bassist Frank LaPlaca? When and how did
you guys hook up and start working together? On the Malice
CD, how did the songs take shape and how would you describe the mode
of collaboration between you and Zak, who is credited with recording,
mixing and mastering the Malice In Wonderland CD? How did the
album gel so to speak?
JOE BERGAMINI: I guess you would consider the chemistry between
the three of us to be similar to that between any three old friends.
We've been working together since about 1995, so we are pretty comfortable
with each other. I actually convened the guys to work on a educational
drum book project in 1995, and we recorded the songs that became my
Arrival CD. We had such a good time that we decided to continue
on as a band, and that's how 4Front was born.
During the recording for any 4Front album, Zak pretty much coordinates
and runs the show. For his tunes, I record the drums first, playing
along with his demos and a click. This allows me to do as many takes
as I might want on any given song or part thereof without worrying
about the other guys waiting around. For the other songs, the ones
that we have written as a band, we recorded the basic rhythm section
tracks together as a band in the studio. Then Zak and Frank can go
back and overdub different parts, and Zak can add keyboards and such.
I really like this approach because it gives us the chance to experience
both approaches to recording. I like the fact that some of the songs
sound like a band playing together in the studio, and some of them
sound more like the insane production numbers or film
score tracks, like Runaway Train on the new record. I
had to make charts for a lot of Zaks songs on this new record
because the time signatures and the arrangements are at a very difficult
Who else was involved in the planning and release of the Malice
In Wonderland CD as I heard there were some guest artists including
keyboardist David Rosenthal who works with you in Happy The Man too.
Whats the current status of Happy The Man? I used to be friendly
with Kit Watkins, back in the 1980s, but that version of HTM seems
like a lifetime ago! Will HTM ever record again and hows Stanley
JOE BERGAMINI: There was nobody else besides me and Zak involved
in the planning and release of the album, but we did invite a couple
of guests to appear. David Rosenthal is, as you mentioned, an old
friend of mine from our time together in Happy The Man, and when we
needed a killer keyboard solo on Runaway Train, I immediately
thought of him. I am very happy that he is on the record. As everyone
knows, he is a monster player. The other two guests, David Richards
on sax, and Carmine Giglio on keyboards (one track each) are musical
colleagues of mine that I met in the orchestra pits the Broadway,
but who are fantastic rock and jazz musicians as well.
as Happy The Man is concerned, we still exist as an entity, and I'm
still the current drummer, but we have no plans to write,
record, or perform at this time. I don't see anything happening with
the band for the foreseeable future, but hey, stranger things have
happened! When last I spoke with him, Stan was doing fine. I have
to say that performing and recording with Happy The Man was quite
an honor. The music was unbelievably challenging, the audiences were
wildly appreciative, and I actually got a lot of compliments from
some of my drumming heroes about the record.
mwe3: Can you give a rundown of your musical background, where
you were born and live now and when you started studying music and
what events led you to a life in music? Who were your big drumming
influences and other musical influences that inspired you too?
JOE BERGAMINI: I started playing drums at the age of 13, and
my training came from private lessons and emulating my heroes. I actually
went to college for architecture, and have a bachelors degree in it
that does nothing but sit on my wall! (lol) I have a huge list of
drumming in musical influences, too long to list all of them. But
I guess if I had to start a list of my favorite drummers, it would
include Neil Peart, Steve Gadd, Simon Phillips, Jeff Porcaro, Phil
Collins, Vinnie Colaiuta, Billy Cobham, Steve Smith, Buddy Rich, and
What are some of your own favorite Malice In Wonderland tracks?
Theres so many highlights of this amazing CD including track
5, Half Nights (which features some astounding guitar
work from Zak, as well as some enchanting keyboards - also by Zak?)
This CD should be heard by all jazz-rock fans!
JOE BERGAMINI: Thanks for the kind words. We are really proud
of the whole CD, and I think this one hangs together very well stylistically.
Some of the highlights for me would be Big Scary Monster,
which employs time signatures that change from measure to measure
while still keeping a high rock energy, Hairless Ape,
which is sort of a barn-burning rock/fusion track mostly in 17, and
The Wastelands Express, which is one of Zak's progressive
rock monster tracks, with shifting meters, high energy, and lots of
sick drum parts. But then we also get into some smoother grooves and
softer dynamics on tracks like Half Night and Crescent
As you say, Zaks playing is at incredibly high level. From the
day I met him, I thought he was great musician, but at this point
his skills, in my mind, are equal with any guitar player or composer
that I have ever heard or met. I really feel he deserves to be heard
by a much wider audience. The guy is a truly great musician, composer,
and engineer, all the way around. Frank is the glue that holds the
songs together. I love his style; he walks the line between rock and
fusion better than any bass player I have heard. I have played with
a lot of bass players at this point, and no one locks in with a drummer,
and locks down a groove, like Frank.
Also Runaway Train, which closes Malice In Wonderland
is actually said to be pt. 2 of Tunnel Vision. Can
you give a little history of that amazing track?
JOE BERGAMINI: Zak told me that he has a recurring nightmare
involving a runaway train, and that's where the idea came for the
song. If you listen carefully, he uses motifs from Tunnel Vision,
which appeared on our previous album, Radio Waves Goodbye,
and is sort of a cinematic musical sequel to that track. If someone
was only going to listen to one song from the album, I might tell
them to listen to Runaway Train because it really encapsulates
everything that the band is all about. It's a crazy track.
mwe3: What other activities are you involved with these days,
including work with 4Front, Happy The Man, Power Windows and other
musical activities? Also can you say something about working with
Neal Peart of Rush on his DVD release?
JOE BERGAMINI: Currently, the two things I spend most of my
time with are my activities in the educational publishing world and
playing on Broadway shows. As I mentioned, I am the senior editor
for Hudson Music, and we are the leading publisher of educational
materials for drummers worldwide. It is in this capacity that I met
Neil, and was able to co-produce the Taking Center Stage DVD
and write the accompanying book. Neil really is a fantastic person.
I have talked about him at length in other interviews, and written
about it on different websites, so I would suggest people go to my
website, www.joebergamini.com, if they would like to find out more
about those projects.
Playing-wise, I am currently subbing on drums at the Broadway shows
Rock of Ages, Jersey Boys, and Spider-Man. If you go
to see one of those shows, you might catch me there on any given night.
They are all a lot of fun to play.
Can you say something about your drumming set up? Which kit and sticks
and other drumming equipment do you prefer and do you play other instruments
JOE BERGAMINI: I actually don't play anything except the drums.
I wish I had taken piano lessons as a kid, to be honest.
As far as equipment, Ive played Tama drums since I was a kid.
I really love their stuff, and I do a lot of different projects with
them. I just recorded some demonstration videos, with accompanying
music tracks, for some of their new SLP snare drums, and did a short
clinic tour to introduce their new Star Drums. Everyone at the company
is just great, and I really enjoy doing R&D and promotional projects
with them. Go to www.Tama.com
as well as my website and YouTube channel and you will see the videos
I did for them.
The rest of my gear is comprised of Sabian cymbals, Vic Firth drum
sticks, Evans drumheads, and Latin Percussion. All of the people at
these companies have become good friends of mine. I've been using
all of these products since I was a teenager, and endorsing them professionally
for over 15 years each.
What are your other upcoming plans, as well as those of Zak and Frank,
if you can shed some light on those guys too, involving 4Front and
other musical activities for the second half of 2013 and beyond? What
will be the future for 4Front and I hope we wont have to wait
too long for a new CD!
JOE BERGAMINI: The big thing I am planning for right now is
my clinic appearance at PASIC 2013 (Percussive Arts Society International
Convention, the biggest drum show in the world). I will probably play
a couple of tracks from Malice in Wonderland there. Currently,
4Front doesn't have any gigs scheduled, but I hope that an opportunity
comes up to play a bunch of shows at some point. Zak and I are busy
with so many other projects that we were not able to get the live
show together in time to follow the release of the album.
As far as a new album, I believe there will be one eventually, but
I can't promise when it will happen. Time seems to get away from us
Thanks to Joe Bergamini @ www.JoeBergamini.com