in early 2001, almost 20 years ago, mwe3.com featured an album review
of Panorhythmica, the new album at that time by the band called
Chasm. Now, as then, the Southern California based Chasm centers
around the combined talents of Mark Esakoff (acoustic and electric
guitars, luitars, ukulele, marimba, vocals and bass) and his co-founding
partner Michael Whipple (flutes, keyboards, bass, drums, percussion,
backing vocals). Lo and behold in early 2020, Chasm returns to the
music world with a superb new album called Wood, Wind &
Skin. Titled after the sounds of the instruments featured
on the first Chasm album back in 1995, the 13-track Wood, Wind
& Skin features a wonderful array of sounds that covers just
about every genre of instrumental music under the sunincluding
New Age, World Music, soundtrack, rock, progressive, jazz fusion,
bossa-nova and flamenco too. Incredibly diverse in scope and dimension,
Wood, Wind & Skin closes the album out with a memorable
vocal track called The Silence Between The Wordsa
symphonic like pop number that underscores Marks intrigue with
the Kinks and Bowie-esque rock. Additional string and horn arrangements,
not to mention expert engineering, by Michael Whipple gives Wood,
Wind & Skin a striking depth that sounds as if theres
a full band playing. Marks guitars and Michaels flute,
keys and drums shines throughout the album and theres hardly
an off note, start to finish. Based on that 2001 album alone, one
could have easily predicted more greatness from Chasm, yet, in a case
of better late than never, Wood, Wind & Skin is a real
masterpiece of sonic delights. www.chasm-music.net
presents an interview with
Mark Esakoff and Michael Whipple of CHASM
How has the Chasm sound changed since the 1990s era and how did you
approach Wood Wind & Skin to bring the Chasm sound in to
the 2020s? The band is 25 years old this year so is Wood
Wind & Skin kind of a landmark return to form that brings
the best elements of the past into the now?
Mark Esakoff: For starters, when Mike and I tossed around the
idea of making a new Chasm album I didnt have any new material
for it. This was a backward approach compared to how our previous
albums began. I would always start with a batch of songs I was excited
about before floating the idea for a new record. Mike said if Id
write enough songs, hed do another Chasm album. And so we scheduled
when wed start recording. What this did was put me on a deadline
to come up with the songs. All I had at the time was a couple hours
of riffs and licks Id recorded over the past few years. I went
back through them and found what I needed for the music thats
now on Wood, Wind & Skin. These new tunes were written
while trying to recapture the feeling from our 1995 self-titled first
Michael Whipple: The first Chasm album was recorded on one
inch Ampex tape
things have changed! There is a plasticity,
a democracy, to digital recording that has enabled us to do things
today that we couldn't have envisioned, or paid for, back at the turn
of the last century. I think we've embraced more textures on this
recording: it harkens to, and stays with, Mark's original sound concept,
but I've managed to corrupt it a bit more on Wood, Wind & Skin.
mwe3: Why was there such a long wait since the Lovejoy Sessions
album in 2009 and how is Wood Wind & Skin different in
scope from The Lovejoy Sessions and the other Chasm albums?
The long wait was not intentional, but a result of a few things. The
band we were performing Chasm live with Brad Strickland / guitar,
Arne Anselm / bass, Aaron Winters / drums, took a hiatus around 2012.
It just kind of naturally happened for no particular reason I can
remember. Not having this outlet to write new songs for, my creativity
slowed down. And then time just slipped by. In 2014 Mike and I started
making a new Chasm album. But as we got into it we realized it wasnt
working and ultimately it turned into my solo project. Wood, Wind
& Skin is different in scope from our other albums mainly
because of the way it was created. Our first three albums were recorded
at Audioworks Recording Studio in Glendale, California, with a sound
engineer named John Perez. Mike and I co-produced the first two of
those, CHASM (1995) and Panorhythmica (2000). On the
third album, Bamboo Blue (2008), I was the producer. All the
band members we were doing live Chasm shows with played on this record.
The fourth album, The Lovejoy Sessions (2009) was just the
two of us. Mike was the producer while he also engineered and recorded
it at his studio in Portland, Oregon. This album actually started
out as my solo project, but then morphed into a Chasm album. Wood,
Wind & Skin went through yet another process. Mike and I co-produced
it while he was living in Oregon and I in California. He made two
trips to So Cal to track my guitar parts. I in turn made two trips
to Southern Oregon for more tracking and to be there for the final
mix. My marimba parts were recorded at my home studio by sound engineer
John Wilson. The process of Mike setting up the arrangements in advance
and me later coming in on the back end of the production to add my
derangements to the arrangements was something we had
not done before.
Whipple: Lovejoy was my first attempt at engineering and
producing Chasm. I was ill equipped and pretty unprepared. It was
quite a learning experience. I think the main difference, in scope,
energy, and concept, is the acoustic drums. On Lovejoy, I tried
to create a rhythmic bed of electronic percussion sources for Chasm,
and I think it works to a certain degree, but having an acoustic drum
kit at the heart of the music was always what the music called for,
and now I have the space and time to track drums.
mwe3: Was Praying For Rain, the leadoff track on
Wood Wind & Skin, written during the California drought
and fires in 2019? It has a kind of mournful feel to it and what kinds
of flutes are featured on that track?
Michael Whipple: The basic track for "Rain" was a
small slice of a long improvisation captured at Mark's place in Ventura.
We both, as residents of the West, have been greatly affected and
moved by the enormity of the wildfires, both in California and in
Southern Oregon. The feel of the track, I think its more solemn
than mournful, but I get where you're coming from with that, it happened
organically. The ephemeral, real-time combo of baritone acoustic guitar,
and a tunable, metal slit drum of mine called an Ideopan. The flute
is a tenor recorder, checking off both "wood" and "wind"
boxes. It was a gift to me from Mark decades ago
mwe3: What nylon string and steel string / electric guitars
are played on Wood Wind & Skin sessions? I was also thinking
that surf-rock fans would like this album, especially the track Look
At Her Glow. It has a kind symphonic surf edge, even without
electric lead guitars.
Mark Esakoff: I played a Giannini Craviola classical guitar,
Alverez baritone guitar, an early 1900s German luitar (maker
unknown), a Luna concert ukulele, and a Fender Stratocaster, Frankensteind
from pre and post CBS guitar parts. Look At Her Glow is
actually an instrumental of a song that originally appeared on my
solo album. What Mike did with arrangement on this version is really
cool! I hope surf-rock fans like it. I dont think there was
any conscious effort to make it a surf-rock thing.
mwe3: Is Sideways Sunshine the more upbeat side
of Chasm? Is there a kind of World Music or even Latin element in
play on that track? I like the title, what does it signify in light
of the music?
Its a happy one with a similar vibe to our previous albums.
The World and Latin elements have been prevalent throughout our catalogue.
The title signifies getting blind sided by something wonderful. I
could have called it Angular Joy.
Michael Whipple: It's very much classic Chasm to me, echoing
a bit of the feel of the first record. But it gets a groove upgrade
with drums in addition to the traditional congas and hand percussion
mwe3: What keyboards and drums are featured on the Wood
Wind & Skin album? Did Michael study drums or keyboards first?
Michael Whipple: Neither. It was flute that came first, sort
of as a plan B. On Wood Wind & Skin, I play Allegra drums, made
in Oregon, with Sabian, Zildjian and Paiste cymbals. There were congas,
shakers, bells, chimes, afuche and guiro, all acoustic, as well as
some more exotic drum sounds from a Korg Wavedrum and a Yamaha DTX12.
Keyboard-wise, it was a combination of software instruments from Native
Instruments and Spitfire Audio, as well as my trusty old Nord Electro
4d for the vintage mellotron parts, and my even trustier and older
Korg M3 for the bass sounds on the tracks that I play bass on.
mwe3: How was the Wood Wind & Skin album recorded
and are there a lot of overdubs? For example did you record live together
and did any other artists guest and add other instruments?
Michael Whipple: No, this one is just the two of us. The only
track that was recorded live together was "Praying For Rain."
I later added the recorder and percussion. The usual work flow was
Mark recording first, solo, to a click track, then I would take the
tracks, edit, then add bass first, then drums, then keyboards. Then
Mark came up to lovely Southern Oregon and recorded guitar solos and
overdubs, as well as the vocals for "Silence." Then I added
flutes and various little shizzly-bits, mostly on percussion
mwe3: Strange Currents is another surf-rock type
instrumental. Also the percussion work is amazing on that track. How
many different percussion tracks are on that track?
Mark Esakoff: I think Mike was channeling his inner Ginger
Baker on the drums for this one.
Whipple: Thanks! It's drums, with an African-inspired counter-rhythm
played with a Native Instruments software ensemble, and a little Wavedrum
snuck in there, I think
mwe3: Track 5, On A Lark is another uptempo track.
All nylon string guitars on that one? Also, the drum sound is excellent.
How about that harpsichord interlude with the flutes? Its almost
baroque surf! Is there sheet music for that track?
Mark Esakoff: There are two classical guitars with flute, harpsichord,
bass and drums. The song is based on a melody with a descending doublet
I wrote years ago that was never made into a song until now. This
is the flute and harpsichord part. If theres such a thing as
baroque surf, then this might be it!
Michael Whipple: Sheet music? That's funny
No. Mark had
the tune completely composed, and I heard it, and for some deranged
reason, thought: Let's go for baroque! Yeah, THAT'S the ticket!"
I think it worked out rather nicely. Mark has a cousin, Karil, who
is an excellent traditional harpsichordist. I conjured this one up
through the Korg M3.
mwe3: The piano solo in Mountains is stunning.
Its jazzy but with a Jobim like edge or maybe Milton Nascimento.
I can picture Astrid Gilberto doing wordless vocals over it! Is that
a good description?
Mark Esakoff: This is my favorite Whipple piano solo of everything
Ive heard him do.
Michael Whipple: Thank you! Very kind words, as Jobim is a
hero of mine. I was hoping for a bit of Bach-like feel in that solo,
Inner Jungle has a kind primordial essence to it. Is it
World Music or jazz and is there a kind of Eastern music sound to
it? You have used electric sitars in the past right?
Mark Esakoff: We used electric sitars on our Bamboo Blue.
But here on this song the plucked instrument is a luitar. A hybrid
of a lute and a classical guitar. A thing thats neither fish
nor fowl. I played in a Middle Eastern scale to get that feeling.
Afterwards, I suggested to Mike that this version be renamed Inner
Michael Whipple: It is all of the above. It's a piece that
started out as an improvisation, and has yielded three different views
of its secrets, so far
mwe3: Does Agua Blanca go back to a kind of soundtrack
type riff? Is the track 1960s inspired and how many tracks are on
Mark Esakoff: It has a white-water rafting feel to me. But
it didnt start that way. I originally wrote it on piano as a
slow contemplative sequence. Then tried it on guitar, speeded it up
and it turned into this. I wanted it to be the sister song to Agua
Del Fuego from the Panorhythmica album.
Michael Whipple: The strings are done with the Spitfire Audio
Solo Strings module. I came up with the intro from the ashes of a
failed bass line. I can hear the 1960s feel, but it wasn't something
that we consciously tried to do with this track.
mwe3: The Memory Box is more jazz based. What kind
of keyboard is Michael playing? The switch from the vintage synth
to the piano sound is brilliant. That keyboard sound brings back great
memories of the 1970s and what else can you inform us about that track?
Michael Whipple: The piano is Native Instruments software,
played on a Roland 88-key hammer action MIDI controller. The Nord
does the prog-nostalgic mellotron stuff in the bridge. The piece was
originally written as a solo piano nocturne. Mark had the idea to
make it into a Latin-style groove piece, which worked out rather nicely,
mwe3: Laguna Sunrise is a Black Sabbath track?
The credits list all four original members. When did you first hear
that track and are you long time fans of Black Sabbath? I remember
buying their first album on Warner Bros. Records back in the Fall
of 1969 but this track, which I never heard before is an amazing rediscovery
indeed. Why hasnt this song been covered before? Its from
Esakoff: Toward the end of the project, Mike asked me to write
an acoustic guitar piece like Id done on previous albums. Then
I realized Laguna Sunrise was a song wed covered
in our live sets but hadnt recorded. The original Black Sabbath
song was an instrumental from the Vol 4 album where Tony Iommi
played an acoustic guitar, backed by a string quartet. Black Sabbath
always gave song-writing credits to all the members, regardless of
who wrote the song. Anyway, Ive always loved this tune. I was
a big fan of their first four albums. Here I thought wed just
do a stripped-down version with luitar melody and baritone guitar
Michael Whipple: Where were you in '72?
mwe3: Element People is very upbeat. It almost
sounds like a Motown track or is that a hip-hop rhythm? What was the
Chasm approach on that track?
Mark Esakoff: This is a piece based on a guitar riff I wrote
that became the marimba line. The guitar melody here just came to
me while washing dishes. And the middle section was a chord progression
with a melodic bass line that Mike ended up turning into a Moody Blues-ish
bridge. After this Mike plays a really cool distorted flute solo!
Michael Whipple: It's all set up by Mark's marimba riff. I
tried to keep the drums straight and in the pocket, then did one of
my favorite "pull the chair out" bridges, where the drums
get taken out. I was doing a wink and a nod to an old, old Mark tune,
"Peer Pressure," with the horns on the out choruses. Yeah,
there's some Motown in there, for sure.
mwe3: Arctic Crossing is a great soundtrack type
track. Its remarkable in that the melody fits perfectly with
the dynamic, which features just the right amount of echo and drive.
What kind of rhythm tracks are featured?
Michael Whipple: The "failing steam engine" sound
was a loop from an ancient software groove box I still use, called
Stylus RMX. Takes a lickin and keeps on tickin, just like
The rhythmic delays are from a Universal Audio software emulation
of a Lexicon 480L digital reverb.
The album closes with The Silence Between The Words, which
is very different from the other tracks. Is there a Bowie connection
there somehow? Is that the only track Mark plays electric guitar on
and what guitars are played on that track? Is there a kind of trumpet
sound? I could go for another track like that on the next Chasm album,
which I hope wont take ten more years to finish!
Mark Esakoff: This ones our finale! Its the only
vocal track and electric guitar solo on the album. A big symphonic
rockestra with lyrics about the sound of nothing. A reaction
to the all the nOiSe thats so pervasive in these times. I think
the Bowie connection you hear might be in the outro of the song with
the Mick Ronson-esque guitar solo engulfed by a string symphony. This
section reminds me of the outro of Moonage Daydream from
Bowies Ziggy Stardust album. But again, it wasn't something
that we consciously tried to do.
Michael Whipple: Yeah, there's some Bowie there, and some vintage
King Crimson or Moody Blues stuff with the heavy mellotrons
mwe3: The Wood Wind & Skin cover art is great and
in fact all your albums feature cool cover art. Its colorful
yet understated. What can you tell us about your cover art and who
designs the cover art?
Mark Esakoff: Our self-titled first album cover came from a
promo photo taken in a Venice Beach garden by photographer Jim Harper.
Like the music, it had a natural lush outdoors kind of feel. The layout
was done by a staff artist at Rainbow Records in Santa Monica, California.
He had the idea of making the font in the word CHASM go
from big-small-big signifying a chasm. During the recording of the
second album Panorhythmica, Mike and I often discussed music
in terms of visual imagery. When one of us would use a visual term
like "smoke", "wood", "amber", etc.
to describe music, the other would instinctively know what he meant.
This visual-musical language became the theme of the album
with the ear/hearing with the eye. Naturally, we wanted to come
up with a visual-musical name for the album.
started with "Panoramic Rhythms" and later turned it into
Panorhythmica. The theme of seeing with the ear/hearing
with the eye continued into the album cover artwork. I asked
an artist friend, Tom McKeith to do album artwork. I had a concept
for a face where the ear and the eye were switched around. Tom took
the idea as a challenge knowing it would be difficult to create something
like this without it looking scary or like a Picasso. I think he succeeded
quite nicely. On the third and fourth albums I did the artwork. I
wanted Bamboo Blue to have a nighttime jungle jazz feel, like
much of the music. Hence, the green and blue bamboo foreground against
a dark background. The Lovejoy Sessions cover has a close up
of a hand playing classical guitar. This was intended to convey the
intimacy and simplicity of the songs.
Wood, Wind & Skin is named after the sounds of the original
instruments we used during the making of our first album, CHASM.
At the end our photo shoot, Mike set up a shot using three instruments;
classical guitar, alto flute and conga drum. We didnt realize
it at the time that it could signify Wood Wind & Skin until later
and then named the album after the wood of the guitar, the wind of
the flute, and the skin of the drum. It represents the sound of our
legacy. I made the font for CHASM go from big-small-big
as a little homage. I even wore the same shirt for the photo shoot
that I wore on the cover of the original CHASM album.
Michael Whipple: That's all Mark; I just did my best to sabotage
Can you list a few of your main musical influences and are there artists
recording today that intrigue you as much as the legends of yesteryears?
Mark Esakoff: When I began playing guitar as a teenager my
influences were The Beatles, Neil Young, Bowie and The Kinks. Studying
in college, I became a fan of the West Coast cool jazz guys; Miles
Davis, John Coltrane, Dave Brubeck, etc... Later, the one who influenced
me the most that has to do with Chasm music is Ottmar Liebert. His
albums The Hours Between Night+Day and Opium were instrumental
in forming the Chasm sound. Herbie Mann and Cal Tjader were also very
influential. And Pat Methenys Whats It All About
baritone acoustic guitar album was an influence on Wood, Wind &
Skin. I find Beck very intriguing.
Michael Whipple: To show you how close to the tar pits I am,
my favorite "new" band is Radiohead
I am still very
much under the spell of the ECM sound, with their new artists, like
Tord Gustavsen, as well as their classic ones, like Keith Jarrett,
and the wonderful, groundbreaking work of the world acoustic trio
mwe3: So with Wood Wind & Skin out now what is Chasm
planning for 2020? Have you done some shows in and around L.A. or
other Western states? I realize touring a band is very expensive but
how about an online show?
Mark Esakoff: No live shows scheduled at this time. But check
A music video would be fun to do!
mwe3: Are you always writing and recording music? What kind
of album or musical direction would you like to go in during the 2020s?
Mark Esakoff: Well
Mike is already off to a new solo
project. Its a piano, flute and string quartet album. Hes
much more prolific than me. Ive got plans to make some new music
in my newly built detached home studio. Its named Studio Guacamole
in honor of the giant avocado tree that towers over it. I think Id
like to get the guys from the Bamboo Blue sessions back together
again and start doing some Chasm shows. Got plenty of rehearsal space!