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Julien Kasper

Vintage Guitar Magazine, June 2010

Julien Kasper: Go With the Flow

Vintage Guitar magazine
June, 2010

The Julien Kasper Band's record, Trance Groove shows a guitar player in full command of his instrument. But what really stands out are Kasper's compositional skills and the way his music flows.

"I don't want guitar players who hear this to go 'Man, did you see how he was sweeping?' I don't want to have any part of that mentality. I just want them to say they really like the music. The content is the approach."

Kasper, an instructor at Berklee School of Music, went into the studio with one thing in mind. "It started as an idea to be uncompromising in the writing and playing. I wanted to follow the muse. That's how some of the more textural and slightly atonal things came about. Plus, I wanted to write a context for my playing."

Kasper started playing one day when he and his mother drove by a guitar store. She bought him an acoustic and he learned chords and songs from the Beatles' Abbey Road and Bob Dylan's Blonde on Blonde. After hearing The History of Eric Clapton, he got an electric. "I enslaved a friend to play rhythm guitar, and we would play blues after school. I'd take stuff off records, following the thread back to Freddie King, B.B., T-Bone Walker, and anywhere it'd take me."

Kasper's development got a boost when his band hired the late harpist/vocalist Pat Ramsey was a gig "He was beyond us in ability, but he nurtured my playing - a lot."

An obsession with jazz led Kasper to the University of Miami. "I wanted to go to an environment where I would get my ass kicked day in and day out. I wanted to learn composition, orchestration - anything I could." After graduating, he ended up in Dallas, where he was "pretty miserable" playing country gigs. He met the guitar chair of the University of North Texas, a renowned jazz school, and was able to get a teaching fellowship at the college. "They paid me to teach while I earned my Master's Degree. My wife at the time was looking to go to Boston for her degree. So I called Berklee, and the assistant chair was a North Texas guy. I sent him a demo I'd done with (Steely Dan drummer) Keith Carlock and a bass player. He heard it and said I was in."

During his time at the school, which is now a little over a decade, Kasper has continued to develop. And while he cites common guitar influences like Beck and Hendrix, his technique is also heavily influenced by jazz horn players like Wayne Shorter, Joe Henderson, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, and others. "I remember a Sonny Rollins solo I was learning years ago that had this liquid, flowing element. Learning that solo, I cultivated my left-hand attack. I try to balance my left and right hand to where if I'm watching myself, I can't tell if I'm picking, slurring, hammering, or pulling off. I can't try to subjugate technique to music."

A Strat guy, Kasper owns a couple of vintage examples. "One's a '66 I've had since I was 18. I just recently saw an old photo of me where the guitar had finish on it! My main old one is a mutt with a '54 neck and a '57 body. It doesn't have any collectable value, but it's a total player - a remarkable-sounding guitar." He has also become a fan of D'Pergo guitars. "They're remarkable, huge, complex-sounding instruments. They sound like a great old Strat, but have something all their own."

When it comes to amps, Kasper's preference is clear. "My policy is the opposite of a lot of people. I believe only big amps sound big, so I record most of my solos with a '72 100-watt Super Lead into basket-weave 4x12 cabinets. Nothing sounds like that. I use small amps for clean tones - I like to push them to the point where they're not quite breaking up. I also use a brown '62 Fender Princeton and a '57 Deluxe."

Kasper's trio hasn't strayed too far from the East Coast, aside from a couple of trips to Europe. He hopes with the release of Trance Groove the band will have a chance to head toward the West Coast. He thinks people will react to his music as he reacts to what he listens to. "I react to music viscerally, just how it makes me feel. To me it's all equal - whether it's Howlin' Wolf, Mahler, or John Coltrane. It's all there."

Copyright 2010, Vintage Guitar magazine


MUSIC SCENE: Eclectic Quincy guitarist is in the "Groove"

The Patriot Ledger
October 30, 2009

The Julien Kasper BandThere are several outstanding guitarists in New England who can accurately be called fusion artists, melding rock, jazz, blues and more into their music. Most of those musicians skew toward one style.

Quincy resident Julien Kasper tends to be too slippery to pin down because he takes on several genres simultaneously. Kasper’s third album is being released this week, and Trance Groove offers his most integrated work yet, a jazzy rumination heavily laden with subtle funk grooves. You wouldn’t quite call it acid jazz or house music, because there are quieter numbers that have an almost classical feel, and others where the counter-melodies and atonal accents trace a collision of jazz and rock. Kasper celebrates Trance Groove with a show Wednesday at Johnny D’s in Davis Square, Somerville, and every patron will receive a copy of the new CD.

Kasper spends his days as a professor at Berklee College of Music, where his guitar-oriented courses include seminars on the music of Jimi Hendrix and Jeff Beck.

“On this record I really let the compositions take me wherever they would go,” said Kasper. “I have been feeling less compromising in my writing, more able to follow that thread of inspiration where it may lead, and not trying to consciously fit any one style. The songs on the CD are thematically related, however, where I did use certain harmonic motifs in several songs. And, of course, there is another common thread in the grooves.”

Trance Groove is probably Kasper’s most jazz-focused work. It’s atmospheric and moody in places, funky and spacey in others. Along with his core trio-mates of drummer Zac Casher and bassist Jesse Williams, Kasper’s guests on the CD include Dixie Dregs/Widespread Panic alumnus T Lavitz and Acid Reggae Experience’s Matt Jenson on Hammond B-3 organ, and Kasper’s former bandmates from Texas, bassist James Driscoll and drummer Rob Avsharian. The CD was recorded at Middleville Studio in North Reading.

“Compared to my first two albums, I’d say this one is less eclectic,” Kasper said, “but there are still some pretty exciting guitar pyrotechnics going on, along with more subtle aspects.”

Kasper said writing songs is an organic process.

“Nothing about my writing is ever pre-conceived,” Kasper said. “The ballads and more lyrical tunes usually come from my acoustic guitar, melodies I pick out and then they go straight from my head onto paper. I then later sit down and harmonize with the melody lines.

“The tunes Trash Day and Milk Truck are just guitar-based compositions, where I just sit and play and have fun,” Kasper added. “There are some specifics I was aiming for, but the improvisational sections are very wide open. And of course when we play these tunes live, they never come out the same way twice.”

How about those Hendrix and Beck flavorings?

“I think, in my own music, Hendrix and Beck are huge influences, but they are by now, such a part of me that I don’t sound like either one”

Kasper explained his Hendrix and Beck class at Berklee is a performance lab where “students come in and play an assignment, either on transcriptions I’ve done of Jimi’s or Jeff’s tunes, or sometimes they do their own transcriptions.”

Said Kasper: “What I want to do, and hopefully help the students do, is find the means to have their own originality shine, while understanding and utilizing these various styles.”

While that type of musical exploration and blurring stylistic boundaries can be invigorating for some fans, it doesn’t make for a trio that is easily booked into clubs. Are they rock, jazz or funk or something else?

“Most venues today don’t look for creative, original music on weekends, so you’re generally looking at Wednesday or Thursday nights, and you try to fill in around them. There is a demoralizing effect to not playing on the road – sitting around waiting between dates – and you try to avoid that. We do pretty well at art centers and festivals, although we have been accused of being too loud for jazz clubs. We can be a great festival band; exciting like a rock band yet with the kind of group interaction and improv like a jazz group.”

Kasper has found live dates are easier to secure abroad.

“We do focus a lot on Europe,” said Kasper. “We also do a reasonable amount of promotion in Japan, although we haven’t toured there yet, because I am reasonably well known over there, too. I just think Europeans are more widely educated about music in general, and the people tend to have wider, more eclectic tastes. Even in stressful economic times like these, you can still find a lot of government-supported venues over there hosting all sorts of music.”

A West Coast swing is also in the works.

If Kasper isn’t getting rich or topping the charts, he has no second thoughts.

“If I couldn’t record this stuff, I’d still be writing it anyway,” he said. “Some songs pop out in half an hour, and others are laborious affairs that take weeks and weeks, but I have to do it. I love teaching at Berklee, and it is also a means to an end, allowing me to pursue my own artistic path. In every sense, it’s a pretty good job.”

Copyright© 2009 -The Patriot Ledger

Julien Kasper Interview with Berklee "Open Position Online"

Read this Interview at the Berklee Open Position Online website
Fall, 2008

Julien Kasper“ I was driving down the road with my mother and my grandmother in South Carolina...and I was lying down in the back of the car and it was in the evening... and I popped up...and there was a guitar store right there and I said “Mother I would like to play the Guitar” 

Is that a true story?
Yeah, I was seven years old and she pulled over, I was just about to turn eight, she pulled over and we went in and she bought me a Giannini classical guitar and I picked it up the next day.

Had you thought about playing the guitar prior to this?

You just saw a guitar store and said that looks cool?

Had you been listening to music that had guitar in it?
Yes, I had been listening to the Beatles...and Bob Dylan, they were my introduction to pop music.

You studied at the University of Miami. How would describe your experience there and how does UM compare to the Berklee experience for you?
I was there in the late 80's and it was very much a jazz boot camp. It was very intense, the criticism was very harsh. A lot of people didn’t survive, it was a very small program so you were under a microscope. I think it was great actually, I really had a great time. The improvisation classes were great in particular.

You studied with Fred Hamilton?
I did, that was at the University of North Texas where I got my master’s degree.

What did you do after graduating from the University of Miami?
I gigged around Miami for a while and I ended up back in Texas for various reasons. I was living in Denton Texas playing a lot of horrible gigs, and I was selling some equipment and Fred Hamilton, the chair of the jazz guitar program at the University of North Texas came over to buy some gear. He saw my University of Miami diploma on the wall and we started talking and he suggested that I come in and audition for him. After I auditioned for him he offered me a graduate teaching fellowship. So they paid me to go to school and get my master’s degree. They made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.

What year did you graduate from UNT?
I graduated from North Texas in 1995.

When did you start teaching here at Berklee?
I started teaching here in the fall of ’96, I’ve just finished my twelfth year here.

What brought you to Boston as opposed to staying in Texas where the Austin scene in particular is very good.
I lived in Austin from 1983 to 1988 and then I moved from Austin to Miami and then back to Texas, the Denton Dallas area. I moved back because my ex- wife was getting her Doctorate degree in psychology and UNT had one of the best programs in the country so that is why we moved back. She then went looking for post doctorate fellowships and asked me if I would consider moving to Boston. I thought I might be able to get a teaching gig at Berklee so I contacted Rick Peckham (Rick had gotten his Master’s degree from North Texas as well.)
I called and asked Rick if he would hire me. At his request I sent him a demo tape and he and Larry Baione really dug it and they gave me a job here.

You teach a Jeff Beck lab as well as a Jimi Hendrix lab. I hear their influence in your playing and improvising. Who are some other artists that have influenced you?
Well first it was the Beatles and I learned as many of their tunes as I could by ear. Later on I heard about Clapton, Cream and Hendrix and I traced all of that back to the Blue’s guys. Freddie King was really big for me as well as early B.B King, and T Bone Walker. Later on Wes Montgomery’s playing became quite influential for me, he’s kind of a transistion point for guitar players. Following that, I listened to horn players, Coltrane, Joe Henderson and Miles Davis as well as pianists Herbie Hancock and Bill Evans, who I stole a lot of chords from.

On your most recent CD The New Imperial  you use two note voicings, diads, voiced in seconds and they are sometimes quite dissonant sounding. You manage to blend the Hendrix/Beck pentatonic realm of playing with the more far out jazz related harmonic style. How did you enable yourself to seemingly bridge the gap between these two divergent styles of playing?
It seems to work somehow (laughs) I grew up with a lot of classical music in terms of that really dense harmonic stuff. I grew up with that music being played in my house all of the time because my father is an audiophile and a classical music fanatic. Even now I’m constantly hearing it in the car or at his house.

Who are some of the composers that your father listens to?
A lot of Beethoven, Bartok, Berlioz and Mahler. Debussy, Stravinsky and Messian. None of those sounds are foreign to my ears. The type of music that a lot of people might think is far out melodically or harmonically has always sounded from the very beginning completely inside to me. When I first heard Miles Davis’ Nefertiti and all of those Wayne Shorter tunes I had no idea what was going on technically but it sounded completely natural to me. I found out later on that harmonically a lot of that music was actually influenced by Stravinsky and Debussy.

In terms of blending those two styles, the blues based pentatonics with the jazz related harmonies, in a sense I think that’s kind of my lifes work. I don’t really like modern fusion and I don’t really like slick kinds of playing. I’m more drawn to the guitar playing of Hendrix and Jeff Beck. Earlier fusion by John McLaughlin and Mahavishnu was also big for me. I loved the Billy Cobham Spectrum album with Tommy Bolin. There was something very primal and natural in all of that music and powerful that related directly to say Hendrix playing Machine Gun which to me related directly to hearing really late Coltrane such as Interstellar Space where it was just pure emotional primal direct playing.

So I have always been searching for a way to bring those two musical elements together while bypassing all of that more modern fusion even though I respect those people. I used to listen to Holdsworth, he is a very natural player and early on I was drawn to him but there is something that happened later on with a lot of that music that just became too slick for me. So for me it’s the whole element of trying to implement the harmonic and melodic material of the great jazz players while bypassing all of the fusion stuff and then somehow connecting it to Hendrix.

You have a lot of emotion and aggression in your playing, it comes through very strongly.
Well I think a lot of that has to do with the tonal approach. Just keeping it raw and natural.

Turning to your recent album, how did you come up with the title The New Imperial.
I was on the road when I was 18 with a blues band and we played in a place in Charlotte North Carolina called the “Double Door Inn” which is still there. The guitar player in Muddy Water’s band, Bob Margolin was leaving the club as we were coming in with our equipment and we asked him “Bob, where’s the best place to stay around here, they hadn’t given us a room?” He told us “ You gotta stay down at The New Imperial Motel, cause they got porno on the t.v. 24 hours a day”. So of course all of the guys wanted to go there. It was an old school cheesy, sleazy motel out by the used car lots in Charlotte. The tune by the same name has a sleazy kind of B-3 groove, it reminded me of that motel.

If someone hadn’t ever heard you play before, which track on the CD The New Imperial would you have them listen to?
That one is really hard. I think the tune that is most evocative of where my music is coming from and where its going is All of the Years, which is a ballad that has a very strange harmonic structure along with a Hendrix type vibe. In the solo I use all kinds of things to get through the harmony and still convey that Hendrix kind of vibe though it’s not one of my more accessible tunes.Julien Kasper Band

That tune is on the mellower side of your playing spectrum. Why would you prefer that tune over an upbeat tune such as The J.B. Groove?
If the answer to the question is what most expresses what I am as a musician then that would be my answer because of the harmonic structure and the intensity of that tune. If I wanted someone to be engaged by the album and say “this is cool, this is groovy and accessible”, I’d say The J.B. Groove and that’s why I put it first, so people would be drawn into it and not alienated by a bunch of weird chords.

Speaking of The J.B Groove, the tone you got was amazing. Too often guitarists concentrate on technique as opposed to getting their sound happening. Which guitars and amplifiers did you use on that track?
That tune has a number of different guitars on it, it was one of my few forrays into multitracking a number of different parts. For the rhythm guitar I used my Korina SG. Then for the tremolo guitar I used a Gibson 330 through a Gibson amp with tremelo but I blended that with one of my old vintage strats which I played on the basic track through a Univibe and a 100w Marshall. For the solo I used my D’Pergo. I used an  MJM London Fuzz which is a fuzz face. It’s like the later fuzz faces that Hendrix used in the Band of Gypsys, a silicon diode fuzz face. The amp I used was my old 100w Super Lead Marshall.

The songs Promise, About Rudy and Requiem are instrumentals. Each with their own theme and texture. Are those tunes composed or are they improvised?
They’re completely improvised. The plan was that I was going to include only one improvised solo piece on the CD but it turned out to be three. The first improvisation I recorded became About Rudy. Basically I went in the studio one day by myself and after setting up the amps I just started to go and I played all day long and we recorded everything. I was improvising around the various themes and melodies from songs on the CD. I was extrapolating ideas from those themes.

Like an Overture to the album?

That’s scary though isn’t it? To put something like that out there?
It is. A lot of people have listened to those three tracks, many are fellow musicians that I really respect and  they have told me that those tracks are their favorite pieces on the album. Something speaks to them in those pieces.

I really like the tune I am a Centaur because of the tone you got. Which guitar did you use on that track?
I used a 52 tele that belongs to Chris Rival who owns and engineers at Middleville Studios in North Reading. The studio we recorded the album at. It’s a great studio, it’s like a vintage playground. Chris has amazing amps and guitars. It’s actually very funny how that came about. We were playing the tune and I was using one of my old strats and it was coming out a little too slick for me. I wasn’t happy with the way things were sounding so on the spot I said “Hey what if I play that guitar right there” and there was this old tele hanging on the wall and the strings were all old and the action was high. So I took that guitar and plugged it into the same setup that I had been using with the strat which was a Fulltone Soulbender Fuzz which is like a Tonebender, that Jeff beck used to use. An analog delay and a 100w Marshall. I made a few changes in the arrangement of the tune and we played it that one time and the sound was just so nasty. I also used an Octavia pedal. At the end of the tune I was on the neck pickup of the Tele using the Octavia, and you can hear the drums coming through my amp. I’m proud of that track just because it was really spontaneous.

All of the Years has a distinctive Cause We’ve Ended as Lovers vibe about it. How has Jeff Beck’s playing on that tune impacted you as a guitarist?
Oh yeah, Becks playing on that is just transcendental. It’s one of those things, every time I hear it I think man if I could just do one thing in my life that good.

The tune Sister is really sweet. It has a very complex progression in terms of improvisation. What was the basis for that tune?
Sister and All of the Years were written in my last semester at North Texas. I was in a very complex harmonic frame of mind at that time being in grad school and all of that. That being said, I never deliberately write from a harmonically complex point of view. I just follow my ears and what I perceive as the natural flow of the composition. When I try to remember the process of writing a tune, I often have no recollection of what led me to make those harmonic and melodic choices. Complexity is never a goal of mine though a number of my tunes have certainly ended up that way.

How do you approach soloing over a complex progression such as that?
I almost have this inverse relationship in my playing where the more complex the chords are, the more likely I will try to play more bluesy and rocky over it. I tried to keep the solo a little more bluesy while the chords are going all over the place. It is difficult to solo over.

Jacket Full of Bees is a cool tune. What was the inspiration behind that tune?
That tune started off as a bass and drum groove at a rehearsal and I had been recording reherasals so when I listened back I thought there’s definitely something there to work with. I thought “What would it sound like if it had an atonal melody”? So I started writing a melody for it and I had this other tune that was more Coltrane influenced. I ended up using the harmonic structure of the Trane based tune and wrote the melody over that. The solo is just mental illness... you know, basically. (laughs).

I read on your website that Guitar Player Magazine reviewed your demo and wrote “this guy is really good, someone should give him a record deal quick”. How did that make you feel?
I thought someone should give us a deal quick. (laughs). It’s funny they left me a message on my answering machine and this was when I was in Texas. All of the editors had listened to it and were saying call us back. It was a time around ’93 when music started to lean towards the internet self marketing route. I shopped the demo around like crazy and it was exactly what you’d expect. I shopped it to blues labels and they responded with”oh you're jazz”. I shopped it to rock labels including Scrapnel and they all said it was too bluesy or jazzy. So no matter where I would go people would always claim it was something else.

They always wanted to put me in a little box and no one would say “hey we think you make good music” and want to sign you. At that time if you didn’t get signed there was literally no way to get your music out there. The upside being there were a lot more gigs so you could tour more. That was frustrating, I had gotten nice calls from other musicians such as Bill Frisell saying they liked it. Eventually I came to Berklee, became a sideman with Bruce Katz and a few others, and put my solo career on the back burner until I reemerged with Flipping Time and my own band 10 years later. By that time I had the means to release and promote CD’s myself. The New Imperial was released by the British label “Nugene Records”.

You're working on a new album. How is that coming along?
I think it will take the listener to new places. Some of the music rocks a little harder and some of it is more ethereal and spacey so it goes in both directions and I continue to shoot myself in the foot commercially no matter what I do so I’ve accepted that.

Do you feel it’s more important to make an aesthetic statement with your music for no other reason than to satisfy yourself or is there a part of you that would prefer more commercial appeal at the possible expense of aestheticism?
I think asthetically I have to make the right music. If I stick with that and something beautiful happens then great, but you know I have a pretty good life. I teach here, I surf. I write and play my music as much as I can.

    Photo of Julien surfing by Tom HerdeJulien surfing in the winter.  Passionate - or crazy?

Your playing is very passionate. What other interests are you passionate about?
Surfing. Surfing is one of the only ways I can actually escape from music and at the same time channel it’s energy into inspiration for music as well. When your catching a wave and your on a wave, you literally cannot think about anything else. You have to be in the moment and it’s exactly like improvising. It really feels that way to me.

When someone is listening to your playing, what do you hope they get from your music?
That’s a hard one to answer. I hope that they understand how personal it is for me and how much of it is improvised because much of it is.

One last question, what do you draw upon for inspiration when you improvise?
Sometimes for me it’s when the whole band just locks into this place and it’s like a wave that lines up. It breaks perfectly down and you're on it. There’s a feeling of this elevation that you get where the minds meld as one and the audience is there. That inspires me and the striving for those moments when they occur. Just keeping an open channel that that might occur is what keeps you coming back from one gig to the next.


Kasper brings instrumental albums back in style

by BECCA ADES, Daily Staff Writer
Tufts Daily
October 21, 2003

Some say music is dead. Listening to Julien Kasper suggests otherwise. On his first full-length album, Flipping Time, Kasper's trained ear for musical melodies soars in a more abstract, often overlooked musical category: instrumental.

His eccentric mix of organ, guitar, and bass is new and cutting edge. The tune never falls. Every silence is placed with genius intentionality, creating some of the loudest of musical moments. The beats are mixed and new, creating what Kasper calls, "psychedelic roots fusion."

Flipping Time opens with the upbeat Home Place. His eclectic blend of blues, jazz and rock 'n' roll are all evident on the opening track. A steady rolling drum beat keeps the music at full force, and the melody is carried by an old Fender guitar, creatively harmonized with an organ.

The title track, Flipping Time, commences with a jazzy drum solo, and then goes on to portray Kasper's fiery blues ambitions mixed with a taste of tangy Texas country soul -- a style acquired from his two year studies at the University of Northern Texas, where he earned his MA in Jazz studies.

Kasper's grade-A ballad work is evident on the track I Know. The music rapidly swells and ebbs as the song runs, magically creating a psychedelic mood. It is filled with minor keys and special effects that help sever Kasper's music from any specific category beyond instrumental.

The third track, Now We Know, perhaps the best representation of Kasper's spontaneous side, is replete with a throbbing beat carried by the bass. The same sad Fender elegantly thrives through the background beats, bursting with Hendrix-style improvisations.

The various instruments used throughout Kasper's music — the high guitar, the organs, the drumbeat — collectively work to establish a certain spin-off blues style. All the tracks are created to encompass an overall striking effect, whether it is crying, pondering, or getting up and dancing.

Kasper knows from first-hand experience what types of sounds represent which types of emotions and experiences — he is a man with a rich musical history. Born in France, Kasper was reared on many styles of music. From the age of eight, he could always [be] found with a guitar, exploring the intricacies of greats, such as Eric Clapton, BB King, Freddie King and Duane Allman.

Kasper is also well schooled in music. He received a scholarship to University of Miami's Jazz and Studio Programming before headed off to the heart of country soul in Texas. He is currently an associate professor at the School of Music at Berkeley, in which he is noted for his two high demand lab courses that specialize in deciphering the unique musical styles of Jimi Hendrix and Jeff Beck.

Kasper composed all the tracks on Flipping Time himself, but it is performed with the aid of six fellow musicians and friends. Most notable is Bruce Katz, a world- renowned organ player.

Kasper eloquently mixes his many musical styles and training together on his first album. He creates a sort of hybrid funk composed of jazz, blues, country, and 60's rock. It is instrumental music that keeps you rocking, moving, and jazzing. He blends sounds and music so creatively, that the album seems more like a funk-jazz orchestra than a traveling band. The depth of this music is unbelievable.

Kasper proves that instrumental music is happening. People tend to think that music without lyrics is without entertainment value. Kasper proves this ideology wrong. He fills all the spaces that could be saturated with lyrics with head on and in your face music fusion. He brings back old styles reminiscent of B.B. King, and mixes them with guitar solos of Jimi Hendrix to mold into today's techno-jazz culture. Flipping Time is truly a piece of interactive modern art.

Julien Kasper has been around the block and his experience is well displayed on Flipping Time. It is a rare album that fits under no particular category, because it not only pushes, but extends beyond all limits of jazz, blues, and country and furthermore infuses the funk music of today.

Bottom line: Julien Kasper is a wildly inspiring musician in addition to a fabulous listen.

Copyright© 2003 - The Tufts Daily


MUSIC SCENE: Julien Kasper has put down personal, musical roots

The Patriot Ledger
March 07, 2003

Julien Kasper has lived a nomadic life, even by musicians' standards, but says he's never been more happy personally, or satisfied professionally than he is today living in Quincy and working in the Boston scene.

Julien KasperGrowing up as an Army brat on a succession of bases around the South, Kasper kept moving, from Florida to Texas to Louisiana. Along the way he was constantly playing in a variety of rock, blues, country and jazz groups, exploring seemingly every conceivable style of music.

But Kasper has found a home and a music scene in Boston fertile enough to satisfy even his varied tastes. Kasper has been teaching at Berklee School of Music since 1996. Even if the name isn't familiar you may well have heard him on one of his many sideman gigs, with Mighty Sam McClain, Michelle "Evil Gal" Willson, and most recently Marshfield's B-3 organ virtuoso Bruce Katz.

This month Kasper is releasing his first solo CD, Flipping Time, on his own Toulcat Records. The latest in a series of CD release parties hits Mount Blue in Norwell March 14.

"I've enjoyed Boston very much; I've been charmed ever since I got here," Kasper said. "I got the Berklee job almost immediately after arriving here, and my first gig was with the Bruce Katz Band, so it was easy to fall in love with the city. Actually I like living on the coast in Quincy, where I can get a taste of the ocean and still have Red Line access to the city. I love being able to go to the beach in Hull in 25 minutes or less. There's also a very high level of musicians in this area, so after all my travels, I think I've finally dug my heels in."

The new CD, 11 original instrumentals, touches upon all the many stylistic colors of Kasper's musical career, but plants its roots most firmly in rock and roll. Blues for Charles is the kind of heartbreaking ballad suffused in the delicate nuances of a master like Jeff Beck, but Bigger Than You is the kind of roadhouse stomp that Kasper excelled in with blues-rock outfits like Crosscut Saw, the Tallahassee band he worked with as a teenager. The album is full of surprises like that: shifting styles delivered with Kasper's gorgeous tone and vibrant imagination.

"I was never conscious of writing for any particular style," Kasper said. "I felt the common theme in all these songs would be me, and hoped my playing would be personal enough to hold it all together."

One of the best aspects of his new album, from Kasper's view, is the chance to have a band of his own. It includes bassist Ed Spargo and drummer Zac Casher. The three also form the rhythm section for Willson's current Evil Gal Orchestra.

"I wanted most of all to find great players who'd want to be connected to a real working band," Kasper noted. "There is this jazz mentality of just showing up and reading charts on the gig, where the band might rehearse once if you're lucky. That way, the music never really gets to a point where you can really communicate, or have any dynamics onstage.

"Zac and I had an instant rapport when we were out touring with Michelle, and he and Ed were eager to be involved in a project like this. We rehearse regularly, with bright smiles on our faces; I don't even feel like I'm pushing myself, because I'm having so much fun."

Kasper first had the impetus for an album of his own about a decade ago, but without the added sales mechanism offered by the Internet, he only got as far as making demos and shopping around for a record deal. After that, he was simply too busy with work and touring. But last year, when Katz went on tour with Duke Robillard, he decided to realize his dream. (Katz, drummer Marty Richards and bassist Marty Ballou also appear on Kasper's CD.)

"Teaching at Berklee has been tremendously helpful," he said. "The teaching job allows me to now take only the gigs I want to take, where the quality of the music, and the amount of money is right. Aside from that it"s wonderful to be there with such great students, and be able to create my own curriculum."

Two of his most popular courses are performance workshops, one dedicated to Jimi Hendrix, the other to Jeff Beck. Both are among his all-time favorites, but the aim is not to train potential tribute bands. "The first thing I say every term is that our aim is not to create little Hendrix wannabes," Kasper said with a laugh. "In order to become good musicians the best way to appreciate someone like Hendrix is to step into his shoes, and try and absorb every element of his music - the groove, the phrasing, his sense of time."

"When you get so you can play it all perfectly like that yourself, you allow it to get into you, and can then filter it all through your own experience," he said. "I think the essence of Jimi Hendrix was his soul and groove, and the sheer power of his playing - as guitarists we all need that, but it is hard to capture."

Beck, whose early work included stints with The Yardbirds and, later, an unknown young singer named Rod Stewart, is different. "Jeff Beck embodies the ability to express the full range of human emotion on an instrument," Kasper said. "Even in the course of a single phrase, he can touch upon every emotion. What is music about? It's about a soulful guitar solo that brings tears to your eyes, with those fine shades of intonation, the element of surprise, and that certain dynamic flow. I've seen Beck utterly destroy an audience with a single melody, and that's the ultimate position to be in as a musician."

Kasper's own album is proof that he's got the touch and the sense of melody, along with the power and energy of his role models. Most of all, Flipping Time is full of musical surprises.

Kasper also will have a CD release party April 3 at the Kirkland Cafe in Cambridge. The CD is in some stores and is available online through

Copyright© 2003 -The Patriot Ledger



Item Size Description

Feb 2010 Press Release - .PDF
Feb 2010 Press Release - .DOC

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Trance Groove Press Release
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Download Complete Press Kit 3 MB A single PDF file with all the individual pages listed below
Intro  454 KB General introduction & promo
Trance Groove One Sheet  322 KB Julien Kasper Band Trance Groove One Sheet
Trance Groove Fact Sheet  406 KB Trance Groove Fact Sheet
Julien's Biography  452 KB Julien Kasper's Bio
Band Member Bios  779 KB Short biographies of the Julien Kasper Band members
Performance Highlights  332 KB Club, Concert & Festival Appearances
Media Quotes 1.5 MB What the media is saying about Trance groove
Press Clippings 3 MB Reviews, articles and other media coverage
 Photo: Band live- 300 dpi
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 Photo: Julien - 300 dpi
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Photo: Julien live -300 dpi
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