The music of percussionist, composer, and bandleader Gregg Bendian reflects his diverse interests in free jazz, contemporary classical music, and even progressive rock. One of Bendian's first major areas of interest was the music of Varese and Webern, which he investigated during his advanced studies at William Paterson College while still a high school student in New Jersey. Early on, Bendian also familiarized himself with the avant-garde jazz explorations of Cecil Taylor, Anthony Braxton, and Ornette Coleman, and he vowed to someday work with Taylor. In pursuit of this goal, Bendian studied drumming (for high school credit) with Steve McCall and Andrew Cyrille. After additional study at Rutgers University, he formed the Gregg Bendian Project, a new music and chamber jazz group, and began collaborating with members of the burgeoning New York downtown scene, including John Zorn, Ned Rothenberg, Tom Cora, Bill Frisell, Butch Morris, Mark Dresser, Leo Smith, George Lewis, and Robert Dick. Bendian also began his first association with Derek Bailey, joining Company, the British improvising guitarist's loose-knit international collective. In 1989, Bendian realized his dream of performing with Taylor, serving as drummer of the Cecil Taylor Unit both in concert and on the A&M recording In Florescence (which includes two solo percussion compositions penned by Bendian: "For Steve McCall" and "Entity").
In subsequent years, his musical associations have included such artists as Bailey, Evan Parker, Gary Lucas, Peter Brötzmann, Paul Plimley, and William Parker. In December 1996, Bendian joined with guitarists Bailey and Pat Metheny and drummer Paul Wertico at the Knitting Factory in New York City, recording over three hours of avant-noise improvisations that were released as a divisively controversial CD box set on the Knitting Factory label. His work as a leader -- and together with Nels Cline, a Los Angeles-based fusion-oriented electric guitarist and frequent Bendian collaborator -- has met with a more uniformly positive critical reaction. For a free jazzer and contemporary classical-leaning percussionist, Bendian has embraced some rather unlikely sources of inspiration, making him a unique and highly individualistic figure on the current creative music scene. For example, his Interzone quartet -- who features Bendian on vibraphone and glockenspiel, Nels Cline on electric guitar, Cline's brother, Alex, on drums, and various bassists, including Dresser and Joel Hamilton -- has paid homage to both legendary British prog rock outfit Gentle Giant and master comic book artist Jack Kirby. Hardly names that routinely show up in the liner notes of either avant or trad jazz CDs, but, then again, Gregg Bendian's musical world has proven to be far from routine. ~ Dave Lynch, Rovi