ESSENTIAL HAZARD
Essential Hazard
(EH Records)

 

Helping to redefine the art of 21st century instrumental jazz-rock, the band known as Essential Hazard features a number of fine musicians. At the EH helm is guitarist Pericles “Perry” Bakalosassisted here by Brian Koning (trumpet, flugelhorn), Patrick Christman (electric bass) and Nadjim Kebir (drums, percussion). Also guesting on electric piano is Keith Rutkiewicz. Perry Bakalos is a fine guitarist and he mixes electric and acoustic guitars while also adding in some special sonic effects to enhance the overall sound. The Essential Hazard sound is structured but it also owes a lot to the jam guitar jazz of masters such as John Scofield and Mike Stern. Also conjured here is a kind of 21st century Miles Davis-inspired free form jazz sound. Yet, as funk-blasted as they sometimes sound, Essential Hazard excel in the more cinematic aspects of their sound. Each member of the band possesses a wide range of sound skills that implement the use of an abundance of special effects that sometimes gives the music an other-worldly effect. The rhythm section is tight and the CD often features a dazzling interplay between Perry’s fretboard work and Konings’s sprite trumpet, which itself borders on both Miles-size jazz and a more cinematic sound. Overall, Essential Hazard arrives in style with an innovative album that is filled with a wide jazz/rock crossover appeal. www.EssentialHazard.bandcamp.com / www.CDbaby.com/cd/essentialhazard / www.reverbnation.com/essential hazard


mwe3.com presents an interview with
Perry Bakalos of ESSENTIAL HAZARD



mwe3
: Tell us where you’re from, where you grew up and where you live now. What do you like best about where you live?

Perry Bakalos: I grew up in Watertown Massachusetts, just outside of Boston. I’ve been living in this area my whole life. What I like about this area is the diverse cultural mix, which applies to the music scene also. My mother was born and raised in Greece, so I grew up listening to Greek bouzouki music on the radio and live at the church festivals, etc. Watertown borders Cambridge where you had Harvard & Central Square, I used to ride my bike down in those areas as a kid... there were a lot of used record stores. Not many now I don’t think

mwe3: What is the story behind the making of this first Essential Hazard album? When was the music written and recorded and how did the band come together both as a performing group as well as a recording outfit?

Perry Bakalos: I first was looking for a good bass player who had the skills and aesthetic to play some of my ideas. Patrick Christman, who I found through MySpace around 2010, sounded like the guy I was looking for. He was doing this improvisational thing up in New Hampshire with a couple of great musicians—guitarist Mikial Robertson & drummer Dan Doremus. They called themselves “The Podranauts”. They would record improvised jams with a strict 10 minute time limit. I really like the sound of what they were doing. I contacted Pat and we set up a session with Dan and a trumpet player Matt Dunkle who I’d been playing with. It sounded pretty cool.

We set up another session with Patrick, Matt, and this time the Algerian drummer Nadjim Kebir who I met through a Craigslist ad for jazz/funk/improvisational drummers. Matt got busy with his music studies at Berklee, so Patrick suggested another trumpet player he had recently worked with named Brian Koning. Brian joined us for a session in the studio, and it all just clicked. There was a musical chemistry there between us. We are all very different people in many respects. But musically our different energies seemed to really mesh well.

Patrick has an uncommon creative energy on the bass and has a very wide range interest musically in general. Brian has sort of a modern jazz sensibility to his playing and writing. Nadjim has an excellent feel on the drums, with a nice fusion of the funk/jazz/rock and his North African roots music styles. He is versatile, one of my favorite drummers. Nadjim and I played together in the North African World/Funk group Atlas Soul as well. I’m kind of coming from a general “fusion” influence, like John McLaughlin's groups, Chick Corea’s “RTF” band, and maybe a little Mike Stern era Miles Davis influence. All of us are influenced to varying extent by Miles music.

We liked how the sessions were sounding so we collectively decided to begin an “official” group recording project in the winter of 2011. Everyone brought some compositions to the sessions and we played. Although all but one track on the record are compositions, these sessions originally started off as pure improvisation. The very first improvised jam track we did together is the last track on the album, which we named "Recon". We thought this was fitting, since it's where we came from and was the original spark for this group. The album was completed and released in late 2012.

mwe3: There’s a wealth of musical influences on the Essential Hazard album. How do you blend your diverse musical influences into your writing styles and in what ways is the Essential Hazard sound unique in the world of 2014?

Perry Bakalos: Well, I think it’s kind of unique in that we are not afraid to mix these diverse influences. We don’t consciously try to sound like a certain “style” throughout. Definite styles like hip-hop, pop rock, blues, country-rock, retro-jazz, etc. are what you hear on traditional radio stations which unfortunately don’t play Essential Hazard’s general class of music.

Everybody brings the stuff they love to the table and we blend. It ends up sounding somewhat cohesive because of the production and the fact that it’s all the same members playing on each track. I don’t recall a time with this group where we said “that’s not going to work” with respect to someone’s musical idea. I think it’s just a chemistry thing. Not that we have not had our share of arguments and disagreements, etc. but I don’t think they were ever about the music. Brian, Pat and Nadjim are highly intelligent and creative individuals... we work things out.

mwe3: Is Essential Hazard based in the Boston area? There seems to be some great new jazz-fusion bands coming out the Boston area these days. What’s the music scene there like these days? I imagine Berklee school of music alone must have a music scene of its own.

Perry Bakalos: Yes, we are based in the Boston area. Boston is a rich town for music in the sense that you have a huge number of musicians from all around the world coming to study here at places like the New England Conservatory, Longy School of Music, Berklee College, Boston University, etc. There are hundreds of good players around here. And the bar is set pretty high in Boston when it comes to playing jazz or really any style due to the very high number of exceptional players in the area.

But, not as many venues for live music as there was many years ago. I believe these things make it tougher than the national average when it comes to earning a living for most musicians in Boston due to the competition for gigs, teaching, etc. Nightclubs and bars have also figured out for some time now that they don’t really need to pay very much because the supply of bands/musicians is so high and demand is not. It’s basic economics really, but you hear so many musicians bitching about it all the time around here! I am fortunate to not need relying on music as my primary source of income. It’s simply an artistic and creative outlet for me, a lifelong love. I'm not sure if others do, but I don’t feel pressure to do certain types of music that may be more “profitable” if that word can be used.

mwe3: Can you tell us about your gear as far as guitars, amps and various pedals and things that you flavor your guitar sound with? There’s a bunch of quite unique sounds on the Essential Hazard album!

Perry Bakalos: Mainly I play an American Deluxe Standard Stratocaster electric, and used a Variax 700 for some non-Strat guitar sounds on the record. The acoustic guitar used is a Taylor 114CE which I really love, the neck feels great. For amplifiers I used combinations of a Fender Super Champ 25SE with a modified drive channel, a Hughes & Kettner 30W combo, an old Marshal Plexi 45W head and a custom 2x12” Celestion cab. For effects, I have a whole bunch that I used, including the Boss DD-20 delay, Electro-Harmonix Ring Thing, Digitech EX7 expression factory, Adrenalinn II pedal, Boss OC-2 octave pedal, MXR D+, and probably some other stuff I can’t remember right now... we also used some of these effects on the trumpet which I think came out sounding cool.

mwe3: How would you compare your music writing style with the other members of the band and how did you and trumpeter Brian Koning share the production chores on the album?

Perry Bakalos: I’d say my writing style can be a little more aggressive. I like stuff that is very rhythmic. I like odd time signatures like 5/8 and 7/8. The odd times are natural in a lot of Greek folk music, so maybe that’s where it comes from. Also I can say that my arrangements are not typical AABA either. The other guys, I can’t really speak for their styles except to say that I like them! Brian was interested in the mixing so we worked a lot together on that. Brian also conceived of and designed the artwork for the record.

mwe3: What are the band’s live shows like and are you planning to tour or spread the word of Essential Hazard far and wide?

Perry Bakalos: I’m not so confident about doing shows with this music right now. We’d love to do more concerts and shows, but find it quite difficult for a few reasons. This style of music is not “in demand” it seems, at least around this area for the moment. Anything that’s kind of eclectic and “different” compared to the usual popular music is by definition not popular with the people in the middle of the Gaussian distribution. The kind of gigs one can do around here with this music are typically “one shots”. Unfortunately most live music venues in Boston are currently being booked, monopolized actually, by one or two booking agencies, whose goal is to make as much money as they can. They don’t care about the music. How they do this is they put all of the burden on the bands to advertise and bring in as many people as they can. They also try to pack the clubs with 4 or 5 bands in one night. If you don’t bring in more than 25 people, you get nothing of the door sales. Anything more than 25 people you get 80 percent of the door sale. So if 21 people come and pay to see your band, you get nothing. Even in a small bar in Somerville for instance, you need to bring in excess of 20 people to get a dime. It’s crazy.

These agencies are basically pimps, taking advantage of and abusing the artists/bands who agree to be abused. Nothing you can do about it except work around it any way you can. It takes a lot of energy to self promote and hustle to try and get even some mediocre local shows through these agencies. We all have families now as well, and that certainly decreases the free energy we have for nonmusical activities in this respect. I’m learning more. Right now I like to focus on working on my playing skills and continuing to write and record the kind of music I like, and play gigs with local groups that do the usual styles: R&B/soul, blues/rock covers, and jazz standards.

One exception to that is a North African/World music band called Atlas Soul who I play with. The leader Jacques Pardo is very good in terms of music business sense. We do gigs at higher profile venues such as The Regattabar, Paradise Lounge, Brighton Music Hall, Colleges and summer festivals such as Bastille Day in Boston, etc. which are not booked by the agencies I mentioned previously. Incidentally, I wrote a tune for Atlas Soul which won the 2013 Independent Music Awards Vox Populi vote for best funk/fusion/jam tune, called “This Won’t Take Long” (with lyrics/vocals by the poet Regie Gibson) as part of Atlas Soul’s Gypsy Wind EP, which also won in the best World Music EP category. It wasrecorded and mixed in my studio, produced along with Jacques Pardo. It’s nice to hit on an “award” every once in a while for your work, although that’s not what drives me in music.

mwe3: Being that your music is kind of cinematic, what are your favorite movies and soundtracks and have you thought of doing soundtrack work?

Perry Bakalos: Yes, I think we all bring some of that kind of sound to this group. As far as my favorite soundtracks, there are several that stick in my head from my formative years. I always loved Bernard Hermann’s soundtracks. He did a lot of Alfred Hitchcock movies, The Twilight Zone, and Taxi Driver which was a very haunting soundtrack for me. Lalo Schifrin was a great one, his work in Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry movies which were quite haunting. The themes from Mission Impossible and Cool Hand Luke were a couple of my favorites from him as well. I also loved the soundtrack to The Deer Hunter by Stanley Myers, his classical guitar piece “Cavatina”. I like the modern classical approach in movie soundtracks. It would be cool to do some of that kind of work, sure.

mwe3: What are you planning next as far as writing, recording and performing new music in 2014 and beyond?

Perry Bakalos: Currently I’m continuing to perform in the area with a few different groups whenever the opportunities arise, and I’m working on a fusion trio record. I’m very excited about the new record, as the material is very rhythmic with funk/latin/rock/jazz/ethnic mix and I’ve got my fix of odd time signatures in there as well.

It takes a lot of work to do a record, as I have found through my past experiences. But if you have the ideas and desires, I think you have to do it. As far as we know, we only live once! You know that Robert!


Thanks to Perry Bakalos @ Essential Hazard
Contact Perry via: pbakalos@gmail.com / www.PerryBakalos.com

 

 
   
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