MASTERMIND Excelsior! Bio

Mastermind began in 1987 as a vehicle for the Berends brothers' creative musical aspirations. Spanning over a decade that saw four acclaimed studio albums released worldwide; international touring in Japan, Europe, and the USA; performing with Rush, Joe Satriani, John Wetton, Fish, and many others; Mastermind steps into their 2nd decade by taking a bold new step: a totally instrumental album that features Jens Johansson joining the band on keyboard. The results are...


Bill Berends first met Jens Johansson at a Trenton NJ music store clinic back in 1987. Quite a chance meeting as Bill had only gone out for strings and Jens was flown in for just this one clinic right in the midst of recording his swan song with Yngwie Malmsteen. Unfamiliar with Yngwie, Bill was totally amazed by Jens' playing and upon introducing himself learned, incredibly enough, that Jens had already heard of Mastermind through shred-guru Mike Varney. Even though it was only a month since the first Mastermind demo had been printed, the seed for the future was planted on that day in Trenton. The pair shook hands and said goodbye.

A few years later Bill again by chance ran into Jens on the Internet and the two began exchanging email, traded discs, Jens came out to Mastermind's gigs in Manhattan, and slowly the musicians became acquainted. After a 1995 Mastermind performance at the Bottom Line in NYC, an exec from Mastermind's US label suggested that Bill and Jens (who was in attendance that night) should record something together for an upcoming compilation disc, they agreed to give it a shot, but schedules conflicted and the idea was put on hold. But it didn't die. Eventually, even though the label exec and his compilation were long gone, it evolved into "let's do a whole album" which Bill thought should be instrumental after hearing Jens' "Heavy Machinery" album.

In 1996 Jens recorded a demo piece Bill had written and the decision to do a full instrumental album was agreed upon. But Jens had since found work with the Finnish metal band "Stratovarius" and their schedule was keeping him busy as Mastermind was about to embark on a busy year of touring, so it wasn't until late 1997 - 10 years after that first chance meeting - that definite plans to record together were scheduled. In January 1998 Jens was in the studio with Mastermind recording all new music Bill had written specifically for this album since returning home from touring. The result is "Excelsior!"

Beyond Jens initial influence, there was a host of factors steering Bill towards wanting to make an instrumental recording; while in Tokyo in '97 the opportunity to perform with Japanese jazz-rockers "The Soh Band" awakened the old flame of back & forth jamming with a keyboard player (Tatsuya "Chernobyl" Watanabe); John McLaughlin's '97 "Heart of Things" tour showed that an artist could continue to evolve without playing the same material forever; Jens' new instrumental album "Fission" which came shortly before Mastermind went into the studio for Excelsior!; a growing dissatisfaction that the new progressive music scene was becoming increasingly narrow minded; the need to jam and interact with new people, to get out and do something different, and the desire to play some music without so many changes, to be able to groove and just "blow" over top of it. This led to the ultimate decision that the guitar was his one true voice.

Rich shared of all these feelings and agreed this was a good direction to explore. It was next decided that this new music would also require a new bassist, someone more improvisational, interactive and nimble, so long time Mastermind live bassist Phil Antolino was given his walking papers and Bob Eckman was called in to cut some tracks. World-beat percussionist Mike Mironov was invited to add to the flavor, and finally, twice Grammy-nominated mastering engineer Suha Gur was called upon to add the final polish. Never before have so many people been involved in the making of a Mastermind album. Truly something different was happening, and the results are "Excelsior!"

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ON THE ROAD BY NOON: Fling open the curtain... ahhh!! The bright morning Sun cuts through the vapors of a dying night. A new day. Look out! Get out of my way... coming through! Here we go, move over! On our way. See you soon! (Bill plays a sax solo)

THE APPROACHING STORM: No matter how you struggle or what you may do, you cannot change the unchangeable. When only prayer for a divine wind to change the course of destiny remains, struggle as you will, the inevitable marches on. (a Homosapien's lament)

TOKYO RAIN: Walking in the soft Tokyo rain before a show, emotions welled up inside of me... sadness for that which I had left behind, wonder for that which lay ahead. A feeling of sad-joy. (Jens' solo really captures the moment)

THE RED HOUR: The Noreaster, the bank, the lawyers, aaaarrrghhhh!!! I CAN'T TAKE IT ANY MORE!!! ..... I did WHAT last night?! (Bill & Jens dueling Ring Modulators)

DECIDE FOR YOURSELF: Strolling through the garden contemplating just what to do, what the options where, when all of a sudden it just seemed to come together. The answers were clear. (a Gibson straight into a Marshall on "10")

SUDDEN IMPULSE: "You think that was good, should've heard the (solo) I played last night!" Alright! OK, here we go... let's do it!

SKY DANCER: Open sky, vast vistas, a song of the Earth. Soar on a wing of a bird, dance an homage to the great spirits, worship the heavens from the crust of a molten lava core. (a recording that actually doesn't have a snare drum)

WHEN THE WALLS FELL: The wolf at the door, the pressure too great to bear, will it all hold? Protect the good and keep evil at bay? Contain the evil? A lifetime's work dashed in an extreme moment? Celebrate the victories, mourn the losses.

EXCELSIOR! (Japanese bonus track): "Now arriving at Narita, have your passports ready please!" Recorded especially for our friends and fans in Japan several months after the album was completed. (while on tour with "Stratovarius", Jens played his part via midi)

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promo photos || session photos