Voltress CD release
Thursday, March 22, MadCity Music Exchange, 7:30 pm
Eric Hartz has a long history in Madison music, both as the drummer with Hum Machine and as the driving force behind Cancer Records. But as his alt-rock-flavored band wound down and Cancer became less of a preoccupation, he thought about tweaking his atmospheric studio project Voltress, a synth-heavy affair that had released one CD.
Determined to make a second album, Hartz began writing music that was very different from what he'd done before. That's when things got interesting. He has just released Antelopes, a genre-mixing new Voltress album that features musical heavyweights from the jazz and funk worlds like Richard Davis, Roscoe Mitchell and Bernie Worrell.
'I always had more jazz in my record collection,' says the self-taught composer. 'And I thought: 'I don't have anyone to impress anymore. The days of me being on the road and trying to snag a record contract -' that's not important anymore.' So I kept very true to myself on Antelopes. It became a lot of the things that I was hearing in my head. I wanted to integrate more of the avant-garde, long-song type of feeling, and that's what I did.'
Hartz had always planned to use local players he'd come to know through Hum Machine, and a number of them are on the album. But when bassist Matt Rogers provided him with an introduction to UW professor and jazz bass great Richard Davis, he decided to begin pursuing some of his musical heroes.
'It was very much on a hope and a prayer,' he says. 'I didn't know any of these people. But I called Roscoe Mitchell and went over and played what I had for him, and I just found that these musicians I'd admired were accessible.'
The album was recorded in stages at Smart Studios. Logistics were such that few of the players ever got together in the studio at the same time, which meant Hartz (who plays drums and synthesizer on the album) found himself communicating his musical vision one-on-one just before the tape started rolling.
'I tell you, it was some of the most nerve-wracking times of my life getting someone like Bernie Worrell or Richard Davis in the studio and instructing them about what I wanted,' he laughs. 'I almost threw up a few times.'
The results of those sometimes queasy hours in the studio are impressive. Antelopes contains just two long tracks, and each one explores a variety of styles, from outright free-jazz blowing courtesy of saxophonist Mitchell and trumpeter Corey Wilkes to portentous art-metal that sometimes recalls Teutonic prog giants like Can and Amon DÃÃl.
Hartz is pleased with the disc, and so is the album's distributor, Redeye, which he says is making a point of pushing it in the jazz market. Instead of using the old Cancer imprint, he's founded a new label, Shortwave, which is geared to vinyl- and download-only releases. (For folks who just can't get enough of those shiny reflective discs, the handsomely silk-screened vinyl package for Antelopes also includes a CD.)
Hartz would love to put together a few live performances of Antelopes, but after paying for studio time, compensating his musicians and pressing the album, his finances are stretched thin. 'The idea is to get the album picked up by a larger label,' he notes. 'That will make playing live easier.'
Although no local concert is in the offing, Hartz is hosting a local CD-release event on Thursday, March 22, at MadCity Music Exchange, where the album will also be on sale. He says Mitchell, Davis and several other local musicians involved in the recording process are slated to attend, and he plans on having a brief Q&A with the musicians after previewing the album for attendees.