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Gino Foti - Sphere Of Influence Reviews


Brian S. Lunde (JazzReview.com)

"Gino Foti has self-produced two releases here that draw from a wide palette of his early musical influences: classical, Mediterranean folk, Italian opera, jazz fusion, and progressive rock. Foti mixes the colors from these diverse musical genres to create a collection of fascinating experiments in what might be best called “world jazz fusion.”

Just scan the track names and you get an immediate sign of the aural range on both of these releases. On Sphere of Influence, Foti goes from “Marirangwe” (which means “dusk” in the Shona vernacular of Zimbabwe and Mozambique) to “Saudade” (Portuguese) to “Dancing On The Edge Of A Dream,” a song title that would comfortably fit a pop tune. Orbis Terrarum shows a similar antagonism to easy classification; we have “Kujichagulia” (the second day of Kwanzaa), “Ultradian Rhythms” (a reference to biological cycles that are shorter than 24 hours), and “Panta Rhei” (taken from an ancient Greek maxim).

Both releases are filled entirely with original compositions by Foti and all rely heavily on the use of loops and samples of a panoply of exotic ethnic instruments far too numerous to list. These include many African, Middle-Eastern, Mediterranean, East Asian, Cuban, and Native American percussion instruments and a similar variety of stringed and wind instruments (especially various types of ethnic flutes). The result is like walking through a global bazaar with music from all over the world floating by and commingling in a wonderful salmagundi of sound.

Foti blends the loops and samples skillfully with his primary instruments: bass guitar (both fretted and fretless), MIDI bass guitar, and keyboards. Many tunes have a Mediterranean or Middle-Eastern tonal and rhythmic quality, but there is ample representation of other ethnic music: Latin (rhythmic patterns of bossa nova, flamenco, merengue, salsa and rumba), African, Asian, European classical, and even a dash of American rock and funk.

On Orbis Terrarum, highlights include “Kujichagulia” which opens with a nice fretless bass melody statement followed by improvisation over the driving groove of African talking and stick drums; the elegant rumba-based “Ultradian Rhythms;” “Wan-Wu” Parts I and II in which we experience the Yin and Yang contrast between life and death through contrasting tone and instrumentation; and “Panta Rhei” which is a showcase for Mediterranean lutes and other stringed instruments soloing over an Egyptian rhythmic bed.

From Sphere of Influence, notable tracks include “Amor Y Poder” (Love and Power) with its alternating languid and up-tempo sections and juxtaposition of traditional Middle-Eastern rhythms with fretless bass (including a section with a heavily processed effect added); “Degrees of Force,” a frenetic piece featuring pianist Chris Rossi playing over a dramatic Spanish Phrygian harmonic platform and Latin percussion; “Within The Circles” which will transport you into a Thai village; “One Day As A Lion” offers a fascinating mix of 6/8 and 7/8 time with African percussion instruments, voices, flutes, Foti’s fretless bass, and even the sound of lions; “Ouroboros,” which delightfully blends the Middle-Eastern sound of the doumbek (a goblet-shaped drum prominently used in belly-dance music) in a jazz-funk style with electric bass and guitar solos and riffs; and the lovely, simple “Tender Shadows” using only acoustic piano and classical guitar.

Foti’s work on both releases is impressive in the range of rhythms and sounds from around the world that he blends into his compositions. Sphere of Influence is probably the better of the two collections, even though it is less consistent; its best tracks are the best of the combined 28 tracks between the two. But if you enjoy world music and jazz fusion, you are sure to find both Orbis Terrarum and Sphere of Influence worthy additions to your collection."

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Douglas Sloan (Metronome Magazine)

Top Pick - February 2007

"Gino Foti is a man of immense talents. Like his album Orbis Terrarum, Sphere Of Influence examines and expands the genre of world fusion to a whole new dimension. Foti not only produces, arranges, mixes and masters Sphere Of Influence, but he also performs on all forms of bass guitars including MIDI bass, plays a host of different keyboards and creates and extracts sound loops and samples with skillful, surgeon-like mastery. It's hard to believe that Foti is actually playing the bass on "Amor Y Poder" when it sounds so much more like a nylon string classical guitar. His technique is stunning to say the least. Saluting great bass players like Jaco Pastorius, Jonas Hellborg, Geddy Lee and others, it's no wonder why Foti's playing has grown to such mammoth proportions. If you're adventurous and are looking for a new voice in jazz fusion, I highly recommend you check out Foti's music."

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Joseph Shingler (ProgNaut.com)

"Sicilian born multi-instrumentalist Gino Foti first came to my attention through his association with the progressive rock/fusion group Electrum. The three piece instrumental outfit consisted of guitarist Dave Kulju, percussionist Joe Musmanno, and anchored by the brilliant keyboard work of Gino Foti. Electrum incorporated the best elements of groups like Rush, King Crimson, Kansas, Djam Karet, the French group Edhels, and synthesizer ace Larry Fast’s Synergy project for their two albums “Frames Of Mind” (1998) and “Standard Deviation” (2002). So when I received these two solo CDs from Foti to review I was quite interested to see which path he would take. Would the compositions be harder edged progressive works ala Derek Sherinian, grand scale symphonic pieces reminiscent of Synergy or Vangelis, or would he possibly travel the route explored by progressive rock keyboardists like Kit Watkins (formally of Happy The Man) - the expanding new age and World Music genre?

The title of the two CDs should have been a dead give-a-way. “Orbis Terrarum” (translated – “circle of lands”) and “Sphere Of Influence” – my suggestion is ‘file under World Music’. On both “Orbis Terrarum” and “Sphere Of Influence” Foti acts as our tour guide on a musical adventure around the globe, opting to temper the hard edged Rush and Crimson influences of Electrum for an eclectic infusion of contemporary jazz, new age sensibilities, avant-garde, funk, and the percussive rhythm of the World heartbeat.

Foti incorporates an ethnic potpourri of musical styles into his compositions: Cuban, African, European, Native American, and Middle Eastern. His tightly constructed instrumental arrangements bring to mind the jazz fusion group Shadowfax, the ambient Asian influenced Jade Warrior, or the later period new age works of Mike Oldfield.

Gino Foti performs on bass guitar, MIDI bass, keyboards, loops and samples. The keyboard samples emulate a wide range of ethnic string instruments, Chinese flutes and wind instruments, expanding the palate to create a full rich symphony of sound.

His fluid bass style is reminiscent of Percy Jones (Brand X), Finnish bassist Pekka Pohjola, Jaco Pastorius, or Mark Egan ... expressively using the fretless bass as a lead instrument.

Assisting Foti on both albums are fellow Electrum alumni Dave Kulju on electric guitar (“Dionysian Stream” – Orbis Terrarum & “Heart And Mind United” – Sphere Of Influence) and Chris Rossi on piano (“A Brief Eclipse” – Orbis Terrarum & “Degrees Of Force” – Sphere Of Influence). For fans of New Age and World Music both albums are well worth a listen."

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J.L. Johnston (St. Croix Music)

"When ever I get to write about an artist that creates World Fusion music I get a sense of feeling so adventurous that I feel like a teenager that just got his drivers license. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m not bound by describing a particular genre, because to me this is a style of music that has no one direction to be labeled. It has more to do with having total creativity without being tied into any type of commercial game plan, while still maintaining a framework of artistic achievement blended with a logical musical flow that doesn’t demand a trained ear to appreciate it. Put simply, it’s a great way to show your qualities as a musician, incorporate international flavors, and still get the attention of the every day listener. Oh yeah, I left out the best part. It’s timeless. And in this case, it’s Gino Foti.

Gino is an incredible bassist from Messina, Sicily and is a musician that creates musical journeys that take you to places not discovered by the average pop song. Not that one outweighs the other, but like anything that reaches your musical palate, it’s just a matter of taste. And for those of you that want to feast on a higher level of instrumental virtuosity and global musical awareness, Gino Foti is the ticket."

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Paul de Bruijn (Rambles.net)

The music on Sphere of Influence breaks down into four groups of connected pieces. And while the sections themselves are not connected thematically, they are stylistically. The sound ends up feeling very classical underneath the more modern instruments used.

There is an oriental feel to the first part of "Coniunctio Oppositorum," subtitled "Infinite Realms of Light & Darkness," created by both the shaping of the melody and the instruments used. The music shifts to Latin America for the second part, "Amor Y Poder," as the guitar takes the lead. The third portion of the opening arc shifts from the clean notes of the keyboards to clashing percussion in "Heart & Mind United."

The music swirls fittingly into a graceful dance in "Dancing on the Edge of a Dream," and the peaceful sway of the melody suits the title. There is more aggression in "Degrees of Force," which pulls lines from various dances into its underlying tension. That tension melts away with "Marirangwe," and you are left with a dance in summer's heat. Clapping and chanting sets the beat early for "Within the Circles" as the music switches to a more oriental feel while following the pattern set. "Saudade" is a restful, swirling bit of lounge jazz, but the previous dances leave one wanting more charge and passion in the music.

The tempo of "Seafaring Soul" keeps the music racing forwards, such that you can almost feel the salt spray in your face at times. From sea to land, the music returns to Africa in "One Day as a Lion" which feels like you are stalking through the grasslands. The music of "Paths of the Warrior" is graceful and elegant, almost masking the forms it traces to meditate on.

The melody of "Ouroboros" keeps pressing on, circling round and round 'til the last note. There is a warmth in the music of "Tender Shadows" as the stillness in the music captures the flickering edges of dark and light. The contrast between it and "Prescient Visions" leaves that later feeling too busy, as if it contains too many shifting images by virtue of the sharpness of the tones used, and the scale of change within the piece.

The greatest strength of Sphere of Influence is the shared imagery and inter-connected themes that run through each arc, and there is only one piece that is overloaded with imagery. The results of Gino Foti's efforts are wondrous and almost every piece is very good indeed.

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Steve Roberts (ZNR Records)

"Incorporating some virtuoso bass playing ala Michael Manring or Percy Jones, "Sphere of Influence" is a great instrumental prog album with many influences. Not strictly 'rock' music, but neither is this something that in years past would have been labeled 'new age'. This is Gino's second release on his own and, like his debut "Orbis Terrarum", a lot of this reminds me of some of Pekka Pohjola's work - beautiful melodies played in a semi-classical style with some very distinctive bass work! But this veers off into a certain Asian flavor that also recalls Vangelis' great "China" album or some of Jade Warrior's best work! If you enjoy lush instrumental prog then Gino's CDs are definitely right up your alley! Highly recommended to fans of the musicians/groups mentioned in this review!"

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Eric W. Saeger (Independent reviewer)

"Hang around the burbs of Boston — let alone downtown — long enough and you start to forget that you’re artistically spoiled, then you completely forget, and then you reach the point where every record you hear from a local artist receives only the most cursory review from your inner critic: “Is it on Warner Brothers? No? Okay, then it’s useless.”

Billerica’s Gino Foti emigrated from Italy in the ’70s and has been releasing anything-goes world-fusion for ten years now as the bassist for Electrum, a band in which he indulges every Jaco Pastorius fantasy that’s ever popped into his head. Sphere of Influence, as the name hides so well, is a sideways nod to Rush’s Hemispheres album of approximately 650 million years ago, but in title (and liner-note thank-yous to Geddy Lee) only; what Foti is about when he’s alone with his (wild stab here) Rickenbacker is world music, period, and needless to say it’s brilliant, if brilliant to you is firing a fully automatic paintball gun at a spinning globe and splotching every country. The opening zither measures denote Italy, then squat properly in China for six zen-like minutes; “Amor y Poder” explores bullfighter pump-up; “Degrees of Force” is salsa for Tucker Carlson. A-"

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J-Sin (Smother Magazine)

"Fusing various world influences together, Gino Foti has crafted himself a passport of music. There’s a bit of Asian, jazz, fusion, Middle Eastern, and other influences that vein their way through the entire piece. Great for the traveling soul."

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Al Garcia (The Jazz/Rock Fusion Page)

"2006 has been a good year for Gino Foti. The prolific bassist/pianist has released four CDs this year: Orbis Terrarum, Sphere Of Influence, Bhavachakra, and Vedic Mantras. As the CD titles would seem to imply, Foti draws much of his inspiration from world music. Middle Eastern influences figure prominently in an eclectic mix of styles that also includes touches of jazz/rock fusion, flamenco, funk, and rock.

The two CDs I received for review, Orbis Terrarum and Sphere Of Influence, feature Foti on bass and piano. He makes extensive use of samples and loops throughout both CDs. Foti also produced, arranged, engineered, mixed and mastered the CDs. For the most part, he does a good job of using samples idiomatically to make the parts sound like real players, though I felt he relied a bit too much on a particular fretless bass sample. Two guest musicians, Dave Kulju on guitar and Chris Rossi on piano, make brief appearances.

The first piece on Sphere of Influence, “Infinite Realms of Light & Dark”, sets the mood for the rest of the CD. Using samples of hammered and plucked Chinese instruments together with electric bass and percussion, Foti creates an oriental musical tapestry. The next piece, “Amor Y Poder”, whisks us from the banks of the Yangtze to the plains of Andalusia. Featuring flamenco guitars and Middle Eastern percussion, the piece also sports an interesting funk bass synthesizer solo. Other highlights include the jazzy piano work on “Seafaring Soul”, the Middle Eastern funk groove on “Ouroboros”, and the use of sampled American Indian chants on “Prescient Visions.”

If you like music from different cultures and times, let Gino Foti’s CDs take you on an aural world tour.

Recommended"

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Jasmin Heinrich (BeSonic)

"Hört Euch diese exquisiten World/Jazz Fusion Instrumentalstücke des Ausnahmekünstlers Gino Foti an, der sich entlang von Al Di Meola oder Weather Report bewegt, um einige Einflüsse zu nennen...

Der gebürtige Sizilianer Gino Foti wurde von Kindesbeinen an von verschiedenen Musikrichtungen von Klassik, Oper bis zu Mediterraner Folk Musik geprägt.

Als er in den Siebzigern in die USA auswanderte, landete er mitten in der derzeit abgehenden Jazz Fusion und Progressive-Rockbewegung.

Fortan entschied er sich an seinem eigenen Stil zu feilen,lernte Keyboard und Bass zu spielen, tat sich mit zwei anderen Musikern zur Band Electrum zusammen und bastelte im eigenen Studio aufwendige Ethnische Percussionstile und Instrumentalloops zusammen.

Das Resultat kann sich sehen lassen: Exquisite Instrumentalkompositionen, in denen er diverse Elemente aus der Weltmusik mit Jazz Fusion, Progressive Rock, Klassik und New Age kombiniert, wobei seine Bassgitarre meist die Rhythmus und Melodieführung übernimmt.

Gino hat allein in diesem Jahr bereits vier Alben über sein Internetlabel Net Dot Music veröffentlicht: Orbis Terrarum, Sphere Of Influence, Bhavachakra, und Vedic Mantras. Jedes Album vereint auf seine Weise ethnische Traditionen mit improvisierten Jazz Rock-Fusionen."

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Gerald Van Waes (Psyche van het Folk) and (Radio Centraal - Belgium)

"It's great to see how some musicians and composers are inspired by a microclimate as big as the world. For Gino Foti there seem to be none of the now more or less known styles that are not adapted and used for his personal Fusion style. After having established a recording studio and the principle of software samplers, Gino started to record his own blend with world music, mixed with his Jazz Fusion bass guitar abilities. All his music is built carefully with bass guitars, keyboards, synthesizer, loops and samples, often in a way the music stands compositionally on its own. Fusing improvisation therefore is an important element.

On this release World Music sources and ideas are used for further improvisations, from East over Middle East to West, and beyond, seemingly more improvised in mood/sphere and in a floating continuum, compared to the previously reviewed release which had more surprises in explorations, while here the music is improvised more while staying in each track on the same spots longer. On “Amor Y Poder” especially, Gino Foti proves to be able to play flamenco guitar with flair, here combined with some accompanying Middle Eastern hand percussion, and some electric bass improvisation, and a few touches of airy keyboards. The few additional keyboards here and there lean towards New Age, and perhaps this association is wanted. Mostly the music is like its own style of jazz fusion, with less World Music but still within the whole wide world's "sphere of influence". “One Day As A Lion” is filmic, with its colouring rhythms and lion roars, like the introduction of a safari road movie. Also the last track, "Prescient Visions" recalling a jungle (and with a native Indian singing) could have been lifted from a movie."

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Vitaly Menshikov (ProgressoR.net)

5 stars out of 6

"I find "Sphere of Influence" to be a good effort overall (its good and excellent pieces running for more than 40 minutes), the truly significant matters that prevent me from considering it an excellent album being as follows. First: Gino Foti's main strength, namely his ability to creatively blend elements from several musical disciplines into his compositions, is not obvious on all of the tracks present, even some of the best ones included. Second: Since bass and keyboards are the only real instruments used, the music never has a sound that would resemble a genuine ensemble playing - even at its most saturated moments. Otherwise the album would've been on a par with most of those by Ancient Future (whose leadership in the field of progressive World Fusion is beyond doubt, IMHO)."

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