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 Saturday, 28 November 2015
Magic “Space Dust” From the Red Planet PDF Print
Written by Andrea Canter, Contributing Editor   
Wednesday, 04 May 2011

Space Dust

A recent press release from the Artists Quarter described the guitar trio Red Planet as “creative jazz for the 21st Century, inviting you to put one ear on the launching pad of neo-bop Trane/Hendrix/Monk burn, and your other ear on the celestial weightlessness from the musical cosmos.” Their long-awaited recording, Space Dust, mixed and pressed in 2009 and to be officially released at the Artists Quarter May 13-14, will either launch new listeners into that cosmos or greet old friends as they knowingly seek an intergalactic romp. 

First coming to Earth in 2003, Red Planet is a collaboration of three Twin Cities artists, each well established as performer and composer—guitarist Dean Magraw, bassist Chris Bates, and drummer Jay Epstein. After recording the tracks for Space Dust in 2008, the band was on hiatus for about a year while Magraw successfully battled lymphoma. Now the trio has returned to the performance stage at full throttle, and Space Dust proves to be a stunning testimony to the band’s creative telepathy and never-ending search for new sounds, even within the iconic music of John Coltrane and Jimi Hendrix. Also on the set list is an unforgettable cover of Solomon Linda’s hit, “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” and six original compositions (three from Magraw, two from Bates, and one from the collective). 

Dean Magraw©Andrea Canter
Immediately the trio gets deep into cosmic funk with their cover of Coltrane’s “Africa.” Magraw’s guitar whines and whinnies, squeals and roars; grimaces and grins (at times you swear someone sneaked in a Fender Rhodes); Bates adds a snaky, burbling pulse, Epstein clatters and clicks along a jungle path. More ominous, more celestial is Coltrane’s “Saturn,” delivered as a midnight dare to open Pandora’s Box of sonic surprises. Magraw creates a creaky door effect, groaning above a trembling bass and percussive rustle. Hendrix’s “Little Wing” could come from of a Frisell project, strings in a bluesy, bayou tandem punctuated with a melodic voodoo. 

Chris Bates©Andrea Canter
Magraw’s compositions include “Keep the Faith,” a showcase for Jay Epstein’s cymbal fricassee and Bates’s wandering counter melody as well as his own penchant for twisted electronic effects; the extended, haunting (or haunted!) “Mazar-I-Sharif” that conjures a sinister gathering on a dark planet, Epstein’s percussive effects here boding only evil; and the lighter, more acoustic feel of reverie on the lovely “Dawn Star;” here Chris Bates shows his songful palette while Epstein places perfect splashes of cymbals and shells. Bates other colors ooze from his “Rarefaction,” his neo-classical arco display offset by Magraw’s delicate harmonization; and with “What My Thought Is,” a devilish take on melody fragments from “Greensleeves” with some serious intergalactic echoes from Magraw. The collaborative title track runs a little over a minute, a quick bubble of conversation that evaporates into a cloud of…. “space dust.” 

Jay Epstein©Andrea Canter
The set ends with an other-worldly interpretation of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” starting off with hints of sonic treasure, soon awakening in a tropical daze above a distant bass pulse. The temperature rises slowly but steadily, the rhythmic groove moving from soft sway to full propulsion, only to retreat into Dean’s horn-like call-of-the-wild melody and closing prayer. 

On Space Dust, Red Planet covers corners of the jazz galaxy that we might have imagined, and acres of a sonic wonderland we never suspected.  

Join space travelers Dean Magraw, Chris Bates and Jay Epstein as they celebrate Space Dust at the Artists Quarter on May 13-14 at 9 pm; Space Dust is available from Dean at and CD Baby

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