Czajkowski-Minnemann: West ZooOpolis
John Czajkowski (Guitars and everything) ; Marco Minnemann (Drums); Special guests: Kevin Freeby (Bass); Chris Taylor (Guitar, Keys - 4 & 10)
In 2006 John Czajkowski led his band Hectic Watermelon, featuring Jerry Goodman, on a fiery post-Zappa commando jazz-rock mission with The Great American Road Trip. Now Czajkowski steps it up with drummer phenom Marco Minnemann to engage adventurous listeners in an even more hazardous operation—his new album, West ZooOpolis.
Suggesting the brevity and urgency of fusion special operations communications, the liner notes introduce an odd twist: “Mission Tasking: compose, encrypt and record an album around a 52-minute freely improvised drum performance CODENAME Normalzier 2. No drum edits. All tracks contiguous.” Wrapped in enigmatic and minimalist azure blue album art suggesting high desert Cold War spy intrigue and secret codes, the 20 gapless tracks of West ZooOpolis spin a narrative involving a cast of humorous animal characters set to a kaleidoscope of colors emitting intense Ralph Stedman and Hunter Thompson psychic danger. This album is a decidedly Americana fusion that weaves together all that is good in highly technical progressive jazz-rock with Czajkowski’s array of classic electric guitar tones and a squadron of his banjos, lap guitars, baritones, acoustic guitars, and pedal steel.
New York downtown composer, Scott Johnson, remarks, “John Czajkowski is a monster guitarist with a metal carapace and a creamy jazz center, sprouting hydra heads of classical picking, insinuating slide, and a particularly funky banjo. He leads us on a tour of the American landscape and all the music that grows here.”
The groovy jam-band vibe of the opening track, Bordertowns, introduces his trademark muscled guitars riffing in unison with marimbas, banjo leads in a Southern rock fusion menagerie. This density quickly fades into delicately-choreographed cinematographic Kodachrome 60s Latin jazz and Nashville steel twang of Floridy Motorbungalow. This gives way to the frantic Zappa-esque Eurorobot this is Houston which sounds like the Road Runner on speed. In Three Trains to Tennessee one can’t help savoring Americana jazz-rock elements recalling 70s ECM Metheny, Brian Blade with even some acoustic Zeppelin on the side thanks to special guest Chris Taylor. Morphing to the spacious vintage landscapes reminiscent of Ry Cooder in Animal Dreams, the shape-shifting never relents with the Fleck-metal desert fusion metric modulation mash-up of Midget Magi and the Bearded Hippo, frenetic James Bond marimbas in Inspector Iguana, abstract polyrhythm film noire spy themes like Elephant Emergency, and the shredding rock pieces like Viking Rats, Scratchin’ with the Turkeys and Chupalupracabra. The album West ZooOpolis attacks with Dixie Dregs tightness and a colorful Felini postmodern audacity. Here is American jazz-rock cowboy coffee: the combined album sounds like an army of albums, a whole division of drummers, and a battalion of bands concentrated into 52-minutes of intensity and beauty.
Although the challenge of writing an album around a virtuosic 52-minute drum solo is unprecedented, Czajkowski explains, “What is indeed new and challenging here is negotiating the duration of Marco’s severely complex and beautiful polyrhythmic jungle while staying true to one’s own voice and saying something fresh and natural.” Czajkowski also reminded us that the drums were never edited at all. “In today’s commercial music landscape where things are often overzealously edited, it’s refreshing to get to work with a live 52-minute drum take of such great complexity, precision, and creativity.” About the range of instruments he plays on the album, he says, “Given the drums’ obvious pull towards fusion, prog and other complex styles, I had great fun playing more folksy elements, which have a “normalizing” effect.”
Czajkowski commends the other musicians who braved this dangerous musical mission: “My NYC composer buddy, Chris Taylor, adds the mysterious missing element with his profound co-writing and playing on both Three Trains to Tennessee and Mayor Ass.” Of former Planet X bassist Kevin Freeby, Czajkowski boasts “Yeah, Kevin’s a technical beast, but more importantly, he adds a massive human groove to the most complicated and abstract material Marco and I can dish out. He really helped me glue the whole nutty puzzle together on the bottom end with his killer dark tone and driving playing.” Also, guest Ed DeGenaro takes a wild fretless guitar solo at the end of "Viking Rats."
West ZooOpolis began shortly after the Minnemann and Czajkowski were first introduced by mutual friend and Zappa alum, Mike Keneally. Before heading out on the road on a busy tour schedule, Marco invited John to compose an album around a 52-minute continuous drum performance Marco calls “Normalizer 2.” Inspired by Marco’s wild creativity, Czajkowski began composing music around the already very full and complex-sounding drums. After Minnemann heard the first few segments Czajkowski had written and recorded, he invited other adventurous composers to write other versions and expand the scope of the project. Within a few months, Mike Keneally, Alex Machacek and Trey Gunn began work on their own versions with John also engineering and mixing Mike Keneally’s album as well.
Press release for new HWM album, The Great American Road Trip.
Hectic Watermelon with Jerry Goodman (#92)
Abstract Logix Staff
2006 Release: The group Hectic Watermelon is the fresh expression of guitarist-composer, John Czajkowski, and the band’s new album, The Great American Road Trip, reveals the entire group's passion for delivering a delightfully nuanced sonic smorgasbord. Czajkowski formed the power trio with musical partners Darren DeBree and Harley Magsino on drums and bass to deliver an album of new music that still reflects classic sensibilities. The legendary fusion pioneer, Jerry Goodman, joins the lineup on electric violin and is featured on 9 of the 11 tracks. Additional guests include Brian Kahanek, Scott Lerner, and Kevin Freeby who all play on one track each. Experiencing the debut album, The Great American Road Trip, the listener is treated to a nostalgic retrospective that draws from the American jazz-rock tradition of the past four decades with an ambitious new compositional direction. Czajkowski relates, “My aim has been to write and record an album that has more dimension than an instrumental rock guitar album.” I have wanted to try to create a rich collection of music unified by a group of musicians playing material that attempts to build bridges between both high- and low-status types of music. I love all these types of music equally and they are inseparably rooted in both who I am as an American musician and music lover.” The resulting album is a palette of deep compositions that draw idioms ranging from classical, jazz and fusion to progressive rock, bluegrass, and metal.
Full Feature Article can be found at Abstract Logix:
Guitarist and composer John Czajkowski's latest recording,“West ZooOpolis,” is one of the most unlikely projects I've encountered in quite some time. Equal parts progressive rock and jazz-rock fusion, and some other sort of undefined musical sub-genre, “West ZooOpolis” was conceived as a musical overlay to a 52-minute long, pre-recorded drum solo created by German drum virtuoso Marco Minnemann.
For those of you who aren't familiar with Minnemann, he is possibly one of the greatest technical drummers around today, and one of those rare musicians who is at home in every conceivable style of music. Like guitarist Alex Skolnick, Minnemann first made his reputation in the heavy metal realm. Unlike most metal drummers, Minnemann has a loose, free-flowing, swinging time feel to go with his prodigious technique and awesomely complete 4-limbed polyrhythmic independence. The amazing thing is that the drum solo itself (titled 'Normalizer 2' – sections of it can be viewed on YouTube) really doesn't come across as a massive exercise in self-indulgence. A lot of it is groove-based, and even though the grooves often contain internal superimpositions of various time signatures, they are quite tractable as a support structure for harmonic / melodic content. Minnemann distributed the solo to 7 musicians, including Czajkowski, ex-Zappa guitarist Mike Keneally, fusion guitarist Alex Machacek, and former King Crimson member Trey Gunn, to see what each instrumentalist would come up with. Czajkowski utilized the entire drum solo without editing, and created a continuous composition that he broke up into 20 arbitrary sections varying in length from just under a minute, to just under six minutes. Three years in the making, West ZooOpolis is easily one of the most satisfying listening experiences I've had over the past few months – and not just in the fusion / progressive vein. Czajkowski has created a magnum opus that blends hard rock, progressive rock, jazz, and country sensibilities into an intensely personal statement that is brainy, athletic, funky, and full of unexpected and delightful twists and turns.
Compared to his previous work with the band Hectic Watermelon, “West ZooOpolis” is more texturally varied, and emphasizes Czajkowski's compositional abilities. None of the 20 sections stays in one mood for very long, and Czajkowski moves frequently from electric guitar, to slide guitar, banjo, acoustic guitar, pedal steel, or various keyboards, and back again – often within a minute or two. Some parts remind me a bit of Frank Zappa's complex jazz-rock instrumental compositions from the late 1970s through the mid-1980s – particularly the pieces he wrote for 'Jazz From Hell.' By contrast, Czajkowski's use of pedal steel, banjo and acoustic guitar lends some of the sections an approachably breezy, homespun sound reminiscent of the Dixie Dregs, Bill Frisell's recent recordings, or Pat Metheny's circa 'American Garage.' Other sections (eg., 'Viking Rats,' 'Scratchin' with The Turkeys') have a crunchy, heavy prog-metal feel. 'Before Your Time' even has snatches of flamenco-like sounds. Like everything else, however, these moments only last a minute or two, as a new motif with slightly different instrumentation and rhythmic / harmonic content appears and takes over – like a musical analog of one of Bruce Bickford's shape-shifting claymation movies. Despite all of the compositional movement in “West ZooOpolois,” several sections (e.g., 'Chupalupacabra') open up long enough for Czajkowski to spin off a burning, stratospheric guitar solo over Minnemann's churning polymetric grooves. Similarly, the melodically atmospheric title track leaves some room for Minnemann's drumming to shine through.
The CD's most bizarre and jarring moment is 'Mayor Ass,' where Czajkowski takes his first turn as a vocalist – sounding a bit like the laid-back 70's jazz singer Michael Franks. It's a surprisingly effective move, and Czajkowski's inscrutable lyrics just add to the overall feeling of weirdness. Bassist Kevin Freeby is an integral part of the show, and gets in a couple of fleet-fingered solos as well – most remarkably on 'Eurorobot This Is Houston.' A sprawling, restless, quirkily original collaboration by an amazing drummer and one of the most interesting and eloquent guitarists and composers around, West ZooOpolis is not background music - this is a CD best listened to with all the attention you can muster, preferably in the dark, at high volume, with headphones on.
Reviewed by Dave Wayne at Jazz Review (Feb 07)
Every so often, an album like Hectic Watermelon’s The Great American Road Trip comes along to give me hope that jazz-rock fusion hasn’t collapsed like a poorly-made soufflé under the weight of its own clichés. Multi-instrumentalist John Czajkowski (okay – he’s primarily a guitarist) is a new name to me. Oakland-bred and based in San Diego, Czajkowski’s resumé includes some truly rich life experiences...(complete review)
Dutch Magazine, iO Pages: Nr. 71 (Feb 2007) by René Yedema (translation: Yedema)
The Great American Road Trip is a travel report from John Czajkowski’s band Hectic Watermelon. In other words, like the great album cover mentions: “This album is about travel. The individual compositions and performances can be viewed as postcards sent as thank-you notes to teachers, gurus, musicians and friends who helped inspire the music along the road.” He doesn’t yield though to the temptation to copy his sources of inspirations indiscriminately, but, on the other hand, creates a concept in three parts, in which influences fluently fall together with own ideas and talents. Accompanied by drummer Darren DeBree and bass-player Harley Magsino and with a special leading part for violist Jerry Goodman he describes in three quarter of an hour a musically exciting journey which typifies itself by compact compositions, harmonious layering and solo’s and breaks which follow each other quickly. At this Czajkowski touches, next to the electric guitar, amongst others guitar-synthesizer, mandolin and keyboards and adds a lots of extra’s by means of sampling and sound design. In the humoristic, partly vocal fragments and subtly installed marimba-sound the ghost of Zappa wanders around, while other computed ideas can be traced back to amongst others the pure sounds of Eric Johnson, the intriguing syncopation of Scott Henderson, the Eastern senses of John McLauglin, Allan Holdsworth’s unpredictability and especially the breathtakingly versatility of Steve Morse and his Dixie Dregs. Goodman’s sweeping playing beautifully manifests itself constantly, which leads to a stylish dosage of guitar- and violin-solo’s. Because of this all this excellently produced, modern progressive jazz-rock trip stimulates the musical joy of traveling.
Reviewed by François Couture for the All Music Guide (Dec 06)
An impressive debut; that’s all there is to say about The Great American Road Trip. Okay, there’s actually a lot more to tell, but after the disk stops spinning, the only thing on your mind will be “What, this is a debut album?!?” Hectic Watermelon is a quirky fusion trio led by a very good guitarist, one of the best kinds of guitarists in fact: the kind that eschews pointless flashiness in favor of wild ideas. John Czajkowski possesses all the necessary skills to pull off a fusion career—and he does take the time to impress on The Great American Road Trip—but he is first and foremost a strong composer with a knack for studio work. The album offers a very large sound palette, form madly contorted rock songs (“Twenty-First Century Visigoth,” hilarious) to textural sonic experiments (“Layover in Hamemet”). But the bulk of the album consists of spirited fast-paced fusion instrumentals featuring Czajkowski, bassist Harley Magsino, drummer Darren DeBree, and none other than Mahavishnu Orchestra’s violinist extraordinaire, Jerry Goodman, as a special guest. Goodman appears on all but two tracks and his trademark sound is put to excellent use in highlights “Bullets, Dice and 30 Megabytes,” “The Third Derivative of James Brown,” and “Subterranean Rapid Transit.” John McLaughlin’s influence is felt throughout the album, but Frank Zappa is also quite present—not in Czajkowski’s guitar playing, but in his witty writing and sense of humor. Both entertaining and technically impressive, The Great American Road Trip has enough jazz to titillate fusion fans, enough complexity to please the progressively inclined, but most of all (and despite the above statements about Zappa and McLaughlin) it has its own endearing personality. And that, more than anything else is what makes it such a strong debut album. Highly recommended.
Reviewed by MJBrady at Proggnosis: Published 4 Nov 2006
I absolutely love when an obscure band comes seemingly out from nowhere to kick my behind. And though California is somewhere, this band has done just that. Coming at you with a high tech, ultra dense progressive fusion attack, this Navy Seal led band has all the talent and imagination to stifle the minds of the hardest core fusion heads anywhere. And they don't just appeal to that genre, this music has such a unique sound and the players are outrageously gifted, that progressive rock fans that have a flair for instrumental adventure will find more than enough to appeal to their senses.
Hectic Watermelon is able to draw from a wide array of influences coming mostly from the fusion side of things, but with enough Zappa-esque flair to keep the music bumpy and non-repetitive. Each song is a flavor of it's own, showing the innovations of Mahavishnu, the virtuosity of The Dregs, the class of Return to Forever, and the humor and daring of Zappa more challenging instrumental compositions. While this may seem an exaggeration of sorts, trust me when I emphasize that the musicians in this band are equal to the task in every way. They have enlisted some outside players to assist on various songs, even ex-Dreg/Vishnu violinist - Jerry Goodman.
I have heard a LOT of fusion and progfusion stuff, and this is as good as it gets for this small subgenre, the members of this band feed on all of your aural imagery through the clever constructions of this music, while they are all impressive soloists in their own right, what they are doing as musical inventors is where they make their mark, as this cd will impress you not only at the first passing, but each successive listen will continue to challenge and awaken your attention to the details of their unique brand of music.
So, In hearing this band for the first time, I was floored, so much so, that I was convinced that musicians this seasoned have been doing a lot of things with a lot of artists, but this seemingly is not so. So add them to a new generation of important prog/fusion bands that need to be heard to convince you. Along with Helmet of Gnats, Bad Dog U, Kick the Cat, there is another wild breed of music on the front, one that will appeal to those that long for the days of yore, and don't mind musicians that are forward thinking, while paying homage to the roots of the genre itself. Excellent recording, top recommendation!
All About Jazz: Los Angeles, Bay Area and Chicago November print editions
Written by: George Harris
Power trio Hectic Watermelon’s (John Czajkowski, Darren DeBree, Harley Magsino, plus special guest, Jerry Goodman) latest release, The Great American Road Trip, is a slice of progressive rock/jazz that will whet the appetite of any fan of the Mahavishnu Orchestra or King Crimson. Adding to the equation is the addition of Mahavishnu Orchestra alumnus, violinist Jerry Goodman, who is still crazy after all these years. His electrifying violin work creates quite a number of sparks with John Czajkowski’s hard driving guitar. On “Bionic Hillbilly,” the violin and guitar themed melody is multi-layered and bluesy over Darren DeBree’s hard rocking and aggressive drum work. The playing is complex and highly intricate, mixing heavy metal guitar tuplets and progressive chord progressions. “Twenty-first Century Visigoth” is a clever mix of ‘70s metal with modern attitude, reminiscent of vintage King Crimson. “F Street Fulano” delivers a clever use of chord progressions, mixed with Goodman’s maniacal violin dancing over the frenetic bass and drum work. “Steve’s Stunt Double” features some absolutely astonishing guitar work by Czakowski. I can’t wait to get the transcription of this one! “The Third Derivative of James Brown” combines frenetic fretwork with Goodman’s high-octane violin, mixed with clever usage of voice sampling. Throughout each of the songs on this masterful set, the playing is tight, complex and eclectic. Anybody who is missing the days when Jeff Beck’s Blow by Blow or The Mahavishnu Orchestra’s Birds of Fire ruled the world will have found a friend in this high-energy recording.
Reviewed by Midwest Record (6 Dec 06)
HECTIC WATERMELON/Great American Road Trip: The next generation of jazz/rock/progressive has arrived, and show they know their history, they invited Jerry Goodman around for a few licks. It can be a challenge to move this genre forward when so much great foundation has been laid and has to be lived up to, but these cats have their feet in today and craft this for young, up and coming tastes that aren’t bound by the past. Mahavishnu fans might pass it by but their kids will take note, as it should be. With a degree of genre splicing ruing rampant, it’s the kind of sonic gumbo progressive college kids will relate to.
3346 (Predator Fish)
Reviewed in Progarchives by Angelo April 2007
Ten years down the road, one Czajkowski album
The debut album of Hectic Watermelon makes me hope for many more to come. I just hope it doesn't take band leader John Czajkowski another 10 years to get out a second album. The oldest track on this 2006 album was written already in 1996, and it doesn't sound dated at all. Nor can it, the mix of different genres that this band borrows from makes the music timeless in every sense. A different take on this, and indicative of the crazy amount of time signatures this band goes through, is this note from a music score published on the band's web site: "Drum solo (sense of time and barlines disintegrate further)". That score and a few others proof that band contiously cruises through time signatures like 4/4, 6/4, 10/4, 8/8, 6/8, 12/4 and 3/4 in various orders. Stop counting, just believe it or you'll go crazy. The album is about travel, and the music is a journey through different stuyles in itself. From the opener Sacred Watershed, which is a pretty relaxed jazz rock tune right down to closing track Bullets, Dice and 30 Megabytes. Full Review
World of Sounds: Festival of Electro-Acoustic Music
The San Diego Union-Tribune
EARTHLY MUSICAL MUSINGS BY GEORGE VARGA
Who Made You God? September 28, 2006
World of sounds: Festival of Electro-Acoustic Music
Ever hear a trance-music orchestra comprised entirely of small robots, or reel-to-reel tape decks controlled by the movements of rusting bicycles? No? Then head straight to the annual NWEAMO International Festival of Electro-Acoustic Music, to be held today through Saturday at SDSU's Smith Recital Hall. The brainchild of Joseph Waters, SDSU's director of electro-acoustic and media composition, this year's cutting-edge fete focuses on African music, including an improvised work written for Zimbabwean thumb-piano and live electronic signal processing.
Equally intriguing is tonight's presentation by composer-percussionist Lukas Ligeti. He will pay tribute in words and music to his recently deceased father, legendary composer Gyorgy Ligeti, whose African-inspired music was prominently featured in such classic Stanley Kubrick films as “2001: A Space Odyssey” and “The Shining.”
Tomorrow, the festival features electronic music from Chile and a performance by San Diego's Hectic Watermelon, an impressive “post-Zappa commando-rock trio” led by guitarist John Czajkowski. The band's recent debut album features ex-Mahavishnu Orchestra [and Dregs] violinist Jerry Goodman. The festival concludes Saturday with, among others, King Missile/Blue Man Group alum Bradford Reed (playing on his 10-stringed pencilina), and SWARMUS (a trio featuring Waters on laptop computer, German-born violinist Felix Olshofka and saxophonist Todd Rewoldt).