Malice In Wonderland
(Spec Records)


A 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 don’t release albums very often but when they do it’s worth hearing. Case in point is their long awaited 2013 CD comeback entitled Malice In Wonderland. At the core of 4Front are three excellent musicians—drumming 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 Bergamini’s 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. It’s no wonder Bergamini cites 1970’s 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 you’ll completely enjoy 4Front. Malice In Wonderland is 21st century jazz-rock played to perfection. www.JoeBergamini.com / www.ZakRizviMusic.com

mwe3.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 It’s not often 4Front release new albums. What’s 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.

It is 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.

mwe3: 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 Zak’s songs on this new record because the time signatures and the arrangements are at a very difficult level.

mwe3: 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. What’s 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 how’s Stanley doing?

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 far 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 David Garibaldi.

mwe3: What are some of your own favorite Malice In Wonderland tracks? There’s 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 Moon.”

As you say, Zak’s 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.

mwe3: 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.

mwe3: 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 too?

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, I’ve 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.

mwe3: 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 won’t 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 sometimes (laughs).

Thanks to Joe Bergamini @ www.JoeBergamini.com


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