Dennis Rea

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Dennis Rea
Dennis Rea.jpg
Dennis Rea (photo: Anne Joiner)
Background information
Born (1957-07-07) July 7, 1957 (age 60)
Origin Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Genres Jazz, experimental rock, art rock, electronic music, world music, progressive rock, ambient music
Occupation(s) Musician, writer, event organizer
Instruments Guitar, piano, Chorded zither, kalimba
Years active 1977–present
Labels Moontower, Sky, China Record Company, Soundtrack Boulevard, First World, Infrasound, HipSync, Prudence, Periplum, Extreme, Linden, Palace of Lights, Noise Asia, Materiali Sonori
Associated acts LAND, Earthstar, Stackpole, Moraine, Jeff GreinkeChekov, Eric Apoe, Savant, Identity Crisis, The Vagaries, Iron Kim Style, Tempered Steel, Ting Bu Dong

Dennis Rea (born July 7, 1957) is an American guitarist, author, and music event organizer. He was a member of member of the electronic music group Earthstar in the late 1970s and early 1980s. He led the progressive rock quintet Moraine and worked with Jeff Greinke in Land. Other significant involvements have included Flame Tree, Identity Crisis, Iron Kim Style, Savant, Stackpole, Tempered Steel, and Zhongyu.

Rea has collaborated with the late French composer Hector Zazou, King Crimson members Bill Rieflin and Trey Gunn, Hawkwind cofounder Nik Turner, Chinese rock musician Cui Jian, drummer Han Bennink, and Mexican experimental duo Cabezas de Cera. He has appeared on more than 40 recordings to date on labels including MoonJune, Sky, RVNG Intl., Light in the Attic, First World, Extreme, CZ, Cleopatra, and Materiali Sonori. He has performed throughout the U.S. and in China, Russia, Tuva, Germany, the UK, Taiwan, and Mexico.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Rea collaborated with Chinese musicians. He was one of the first Western musicians to record an album for the state-owned China Record Corporation.[1][2][3] His activities in East Asia are detailed in his book Live at the Forbidden City: Musical Encounters in China and Taiwan [4]. He is a co-organizer of the annual Seaprog festival and several concert series. For more than a decade he helped organize the Seattle Improvised Music Festival.[5]

Early years[edit]

Rea's musical career began in the early 1970s when he formed the progressive-rock group Zuir in his hometown of Utica, New York. Among his most important early influences were the György Ligeti compositions on the 2001: A Space Odyssey soundtrack and the King Crimson album In the Court of the Crimson King. In a 2001 interview in Exposé magazine Rea comments on the impact on his music: "The former opened my ears to expanded conceptions of form and tonality and to the world of 'extended' instrumental technique, and Ligeti remains my favorite composer to this day. The latter showed me that rock music could be so much more than the usual foursquare pounding with juvenile lyrics."[1]

Other music that influenced Rea's development included progressive rock bands such as Soft Machine, Gentle Giant, and Henry Cow; the forward-thinking jazz of Miles Davis, John Coltrane, the AACM, the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Oregon, and the late 1960s British jazz and free improvisation scenes; the kosmische musik of 1970s Germany; and the experimental music of John Cage, Karlheinz Stockhausen, and Morton Subotnick. As a guitarist, his formative influences include Ralph Towner, John Abercrombie, John McLaughlin, Terje Rypdal, and Larry Coryell.[1][2][3]

Musical career[edit]


In the late 1970s Rea made a series of albums in Germany with Earthstar, the brainchild of a fellow Utican, keyboardist/synthesist Craig Wuest. Influenced by the German electronic music scene of the 1970s, including Tangerine Dream, Harmonia, Popol Vuh, and Klaus Schulze (who would later produce the group’s 1978 album French Skyline), Earthstar was born out of the partnership of Wuest and the members of Zuir, plus other Utica-area musicians. In 1977 Earthstar was signed by Nashville-based Moontower Records, who released the group’s first album, Salterbarty Tales, the following year. With Schulze’s encouragement, Wuest moved to Germany in 1978, where he recorded French Skyline and a subsequent release, Atomkraft? Nein, Danke!, for Hamburg-based Sky Records [6][7]. Rea joined Wuest and other members of Earthstar in Germany in 1979 and 1980 for sessions at Schulze’s IC Studio and appeared on both releases, as well as the unreleased album Sleeper, the Nightlifer. Earthstar is notable as perhaps the only American band to participate in Germany's Kosmische Musik/electronic music scene while still at its height.[1][2][3]

1980s and 1990s - Seattle, NYC, China, Taiwan[edit]

In the early 1980s Rea collaborated with composer K. Leimer in his vanguard Seattle-based experimental music group Savant, described by Philip Sherburne in Pitchfork as “some of the most striking and original American electronic music of that period.”[8] In 1983 he moved to New York City for three years, where he was involved with the Downtown new-music community. Returning to Seattle in the late 1980s, he performed with various avant-rock bands (notably Color Anxiety and Fred) and became deeply involved in free improvisation alongside musicians such as Wally Shoup, Bill Horist, and Stuart Dempster. In 1988 he co-organized the first public edition (and numerous subsequent editions) of the Seattle Improvised Music Festival, which still continues 30-plus years later.

Between 1989 and 1996 Rea spent several years in China and Taiwan, where he played more than 100 concerts at cultural centers, universities, conservatories, expat bars, religious celebrations, and underground happenings, on radio and television, and in sports arenas with the Chinese pop star Zhang Xing. His 1990 solo album for the state-run China Record Corporation, Shadow in Dreams, sold 40,000 copies and was cited among the year's 10 best releases by Party organ China Youth Daily. While abroad he organized three of the earliest unofficial concert tours of China by progressive Western bands (Identity Crisis, The Vagaries, and Land), playing more than 40 concerts in Beijing, Chengdu, Chongqing, Kunming, Guangzhou, Hong Kong, and Macau, plus a performance at the 1991 Sichuan China International TV Festival viewed by a TV audience estimated in the hundreds of millions. He has performed with such influential Chinese musicians as Cui Jian, Wang Yong, Liu Yuan, Liang Heping, He Yong, ADO, and Cobra. He has also written extensively about Chinese and other Asian music in popular and academic publications including CHIME, the Routledge Encyclopedia of Contemporary Chinese Culture, and the Routledge History of Social Protest in Popular Music, and his adventures as a foreign musician in the Far East are chronicled in his book Live at the Forbidden City: Musical Encounters in China and Taiwan (Blue Ear Books, 2015).[4][9][10]

Back in Seattle in the mid-1990s, Rea formed or participated in dozens of groups and projects, among the more prominent being ethno-electronic ensemble Land, formed by Jeff Greinke, an ambient musician and composer Rea first met in Seattle in the early 1980s. Through its various incarnations the group also included trumpet player Lesli Dalaba, bassist Fred Chalenor, drummers Bill Rieflin and Greg Gilmore, Chapman Stick player George Soler, and others.[1][2][3] Between 1998 and 2001 Rea led the free-jazz quartet Stackpole, which won a Golden Ear award from Earshot Jazz magazine for Best Northwest Outside Jazz Group in 2000. [11] For 10 years he was also a key contributor to groups led by singer-songwriter Eric Apoe.


Rea has remained active performing, composing, recording, and touring throughout the new century, gaining greater visibility through his association with NYC-based MoonJune Records, for whom he has released six albums to date: three with his primary band, the electric instrumental quintet Moraine; one each with free-jazz group Iron Kim Style and Jon Davis’s Asian-prog-fusion project Zhongyu; and the solo album Views From Chicheng Precipice, an unorthodox take on the traditional music of East Asia.[12] In addition to Moraine, he works with Ffej and Frank Junk in the electronically processed thumb-piano trio Tempered Steel, with Hawkwind founder Nik Turner and drummer Jack Gold-Molina in the improv project Flame Tree, and with various Seattle instrumentalists in his Tanabata Ensemble. During this period, Rea has undertaken two concert tours in Russia (MuzEnergo Tour) and two in Taiwan, and has also performed in Mexico, England, and Germany. With several partners, he founded the ongoing Seaprog festival of progressive/avant rock and the intermittent Zero-G Concert Series, both in Seattle.[5][13] Rea has been awarded grants for his musical activities by the U.S. Department of State (Fulbright-Hays program), Arts International Fund for U.S. Artists Abroad, Seattle Arts Commission, King County Arts Commission, Malcolm S. Morse Foundation, and Jack Straw Foundation.



  • 2006, 2015 : Live at the Forbidden City: Musical Encounters in China and Taiwan (Blue Ear Books)


1. a b c d e "From Earthstar to Land — The Dennis Rea Interview 2001". Rea, Dennis; Melton, Jeff (December 2001). Exposé magazine. Retrieved 2017-10-20.

2. a b c d "Interview with Dennis Rea". October 25, 2012. Rea, Dennis; Trenwith, Roger. Astounded by Sound. Retrieved 2017-10-20.

3. a b c d "Dennis Rea Interview". 2011. Rea, Dennis; Breznikar, Klemen. It's Psychedelic, Baby. Retrieved 2017-10-20.

4. a b Rea, Dennis (2006). Live at the Forbidden City: Musical Encounters in China and Taiwan. Blue Ear Books. ISBN 978-0984406357. Retrieved 2017-10-20.

5. a b "Seaprog FAQ". Seaprog website. Retrieved 2017-10-20.

6. "SKY". Thunder Collectors pages. 2006-02-20. Retrieved 2007-10-29.

7. "Sky Records". Discogs. Retrieved 2007-10-29.

8. "Savant: Artificial Dance". 2015-09-08. Sherburne, Philip. Pitchfork. Retrieved 2017-10-20.

9. “Journal: List of Contents” CHIME: Journal of the European Foundation for Chinese Music Research. Retrieved 2017-10-20.

10. “Contents” The Routledge History of Social Protest in Popular Music. Retrieved 2017-10-20.

11. Rea, Dennis. "Stackpole". Retrieved 2007-11-15.

12. "MoonJune Records". Retrieved 2017-10-20.

13. "From Land to Tuva — The Dennis Rea Interview 2015". Rea, Dennis; Davis, Jon (October 2, 2015). Exposé magazine. Retrieved 20i7-10-20.

External links[edit]