Northport — Jason Dean is a familiar force in the Midcoast music community, pouring the percussive foundation for rock groups, jazz combos and genres in-between. But he is laying his sticks aside — at least some of the time — to make a more expansive contribution to music, his own and that of the other creative souls he has worked with over the years.
Last summer, Dean, who lives in Northport, officially launched Berenice Records, an independent record label, with a CD release party at Rockland’s Asymmetrick Arts. His intent is to showcase local rock and electronica artists who are overlooked by — and, sometimes, deliberately avoiding — the musical mainstream.
Berenice’s premiere recording featured instrumental rock, some of which Dean originally wrote for independent film projects. Playing with him of the self-titled EP are Joel Watson on guitar and James Taylor on bass, members of Belfast’s progressive rockers The 220s, with whom Dean played for four years.
“I’m a big fan of film and am really influenced by soundtracks,” said Dean, who has tried his hand behind the camera as well as scoring.
He added that it was great to play with The 220s but it was a real time commitment, given how much the popular band plays and travels.
“I was busy all the time! Now I’m mostly doing jazz jams and a few local gigs as they come up,” he said.
Dean can often be seen playing with Bill Barnes, a former New York session guitarist who fronts a trio and sometimes larger combo on a regular basis. And he is the drummer for the Mike Whitehead Group, which plays regularly at The Highlands Coffee House in Thomaston. Dean uses Whitehead’s home Kat Trax Studio for his Berenice recording work, as well as rehearsal space.
“He takes on artists, like Scout McKay, who just released one I’m on; I’ve done all mine there and a few others,” Dean said.
Dean started writing music about a year and a half ago, but it’s been his primary life’s work for going on 20 years. He grew up in New York State’s Rockland County, then headed to Boston. While he was attending the famous Berklee College of Music, his parents moved to the Midcoast “and I lived around all three places for awhile,” he said.
His first regular gig after Berklee was with former Midcoast mixed quartet Fascinatin’ Rhythm, and he soon found himself in demand for recording sessions. He became a private music teacher as well as the go-to drummer for artists of many genres. Four years ago, he started a music program at the Teen Center in Camden, where he also ran a music camp. He still works there, focusing at other-than-music endeavors at present.
“We’re trying different things this year, creative writing and a theater camp and show. We’re mixing it up,” he said.
With the demands of The 220s schedule behind him, Dean has time, for the first time in years, to concentrate on expanding his own musical output, exploring writing and arranging and also playing more than the drums.
“Years and years ago, I played guitar and it’s been fun to do that again. I’ve also been working on keyboards and synth,” he said.
He is preparing to release a solo recording this spring, using the moniker Quantam. While the EP is rock with electronic elements, his solo album will be stripped-down — Dean plays all the instruments — ambient electronica, reflecting his cinematic tendencies.
“I have a lot of friends not into electronica, but I want to do a record that shows it is a viable medium. I’m also trying to get it to sound as organic as I can … and focusing on how to present it as a live performance,” he said, adding that he thinks the recent Grammy performance by Daft Punk helped people grasp the idea of electronica in performance.
Dean will be putting both his new music and public presentation skills out for the public in coming weeks. Friday, April 25, he will play an early evening Rite of Spring Electro Dance Party at The Highlands, followed a later DJ-ed set at The Speakeasy in Rockland. In May, he will open for Camden electro duo Vistas, who have what is being called a reunion show scheduled for the 17th at The Speakeasy. And there is a benefit for the Teen Center in the works for sometime before summer.
“The goal is vinyl,” he said.
A&E editor for Courier Publications, LLC
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Dagney has been providing Courier coverage of the local arts scene since 1985 and has helmed the multi-paper A&E section since it debuted in 2003. She has been a local performing artist, community and professional, for 30 years and spent a decade writing, producing and announcing on-air for several Midcoast radio stations. When not in the NewsNest, Dagney likes to be in motion.