Third of Paradise

Third Wish consists of serious musicians, veterans of the University of Miami's music school, true virtuosos capable of technical precision in a variety of genres. Even so, they're a damn good rock band.

If that seems unlikely -- that players who can run through a perfect Beethoven sonata are also able to rock da house -- the actual coalescence of Third Wish was an even longer shot, for no other reason than simple geography. Singer Dean Madonia lives in Fort Lauderdale. Guitarist and songwriter Jonathan Kreisberg calls South Miami home. Keyboardist John Roggie gets his mail on South Beach. Bass player Javier Carrion resides in West Kendall. And drummer Vince Verderame is a Coconut Grovite. "It does make it easy for us to flyer," quips Kreisberg.

Kreisberg and Roggie were working with cellist-violist Debbie Spring about two years ago when, Kreisberg says, they decided they wanted to try something "with more of an edge." Roggie, trained as a classical pianist, and Kreisberg, who toured Brazil as a member of the UM Concert Jazz Band, hooked up a few months later with Verderame, who was studying classical percussion at UM. Carrion, who's still completing the jazz program, came onboard next, and Third Wish was officially a band. All they needed was a vocalist.

"Javier was playing in Sha-Shaty," Dean Madonia recalls, "and we met at a session. He told me he was in another band that was looking for a singer. I'm thinking, Yeah, you've got this band! There's no way I'm driving to Miami for this." Then Carrion played some four-track demos for Madonia. "They sounded great," the singer says. "I played keyboards in Conehead Bop, and I play some guitar, but I wouldn't play with these guys. They're just too good."

Instead, Madonia lends his expansive vocals to the sometimes intricate, sometimes ballsy configurations of the other four to fashion a sound that reflects elements of the kind of Seventies "progressive art rock" purveyed by Yes, early Rush, and early Genesis. But the Wish pulls this off without ever falling into the cheese barrel.

Even at their most languorous, as in "The Game," Third Wish slip in enough worthwhile lyrics and solo excursions to keep things interesting. None of their songs is riot-inducing, and the members of the band don't expect audiences to jump up and form a conga line. "This isn't supposed to be light-hearted party music," Kreisberg notes. Madonia adds, "Plus we don't put on this big attitude. We're not preaching."

The approach presents an obvious problem for the quintet. There are fans for this out there," Kreisberg says. "But they aren't the types who hang out in the clubs. They're more the closet music-heads." Tweeded pipe-suckers might give Third Wish straight A's, but the band wants to reach the rockers, and the music itself should be able to.

Except, of course, for the fact that most rock fans are not generally known as deep musical thinkers. There's the marvel factor -- watching Kreisberg whip out six-string runs as if he had 40 fingers, seeing exactly how Roggie fills all voids with multiple keyboards, and so on -- but to crawl deep into the Third Wish groove you have to have an interest in true and real musical ability of the recital kind.

Mostly. In "Back in the Womb," one of three songs on the group's debut cassette, ethereal keys mix with Madonia's semivocals ("push") to create something resembling human birth (a popular topic among good rock bands, including One and Nil Lara). And that's just the intro. After the little whorl, Carrion slams home some heavy, thumbed-bass detonations, and the band snaps their attention to some tough, old-style-rock progressions. "We take the edge of rock and roll and the complex harmonies of jazz," Verderame said on a recent television interview. "Unlike the fusion you hear on the radio, which takes the edge out of rock, takes the simpler harmonies of rock, and puts it in a jazz context."

Though theirs certainly is a fusion -- of jazz, rock, even classical -- Third Wish does not play fusion, as in the pap you hear on Love-94. Which is not to say their jazz-oriented tunes, such as "Paths," don't do justice to improv: Kreisberg plays this one extremely subtly, lightly stroking the strings, barely touching one to produce a "ding" hook, as Verderame gently taps a cymbal and Madonia's sprawling voice floats above it all like a kite on a lilting breeze.

"Paths," which isn't on the cassette but will appear on Third Wish's debut CD, due this fall, is one of several songs that allows Kreisberg to get off a guitar solo. During one live performance, you see drummer Verderame reach up and adjust a cymbal clamp in the middle of the song. He knows he has time, he knows what's coming: Kreisberg twisting out impossible stings from his strings, cross-handed fingering way up on the frets, for sonic effect not flash, squeezing sparks that are more tasteful, clean, and controlled than, say, those of Steve Vai or Yngwie Malmsteen (both for whom Third Wish has opened).

All the Wishers take solos, and each is a blessed event for the musically inclined (emphasis on music), but the fireworks are equally bright in collaboration. "Stars" lights up with Roggie's keys, then Kreisberg's guitar, then Carrion's bass A all of it building to a splashing drum burst by Verderame that signals Madonia's vocal insert, with Carrion both strumming and finger-plucking oversize bass lines. Then those vocals hush and rush right up to the bridge, at which point Madonia's voice flies out the window as another dazzling guitar break smashes in the front door. The song has arrived.

And rockers say, "Huh?" Band members explain they try to shape a setlist from their tons of originals that caters to rockers when they play for such audiences. But they don't argue that it wouldn't hurt headbangers to open their minds to something a little more complicated and intricate than "we will we will rock you." Not that "Trance," for example, doesn't rock you, with its massive drum patterns and roiling energy.

Even so, and perhaps because of those blistering guitar solos, Third Wish is more welcome at metal venues than jazz clubs or straightup rock joints. "We're trying to break out of the heavy-metal places," Kreisberg says. "We want to play more places that support funk, world-music type stuff. We improvise a lot, but it's more to let it blow. Cut loose. But it's still expressing a feeling."

That's really it: This is music you can feel, even if you don't know an F-sharp from an open-tuning. For all its intricacy and virtuosity, Third Wish's sound is atmospheric, absorbing. And, yes, it still rocks.

Third Wish performs tonight (Thursday) at Nocturnal Cafe (525-9656), tomorrow (Friday) at Rosebuds in Ft Lauderdale (566-6331), and Sunday at the Plus Two in West Palm Beach (407-965-4072). Call for times and prices.

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Greg Baker