Zu The Way of the Animal Powers

[Xeng; 2005]

Rating: 4/5

Styles: progressive, experimental jazz, art-rock, free improvisation
Others: Ultralyd, Nogaxt, Lightning Bolt, Ruins, Naked City

Zu understand more than a great many of their contemporaries the ongoing relevance of Shakespeare's immortal and time-tested maxim "brevity is the soul of wit." On The Way of the Animal Powers, the sixth full-length from the Rome, Italy avant-jazz power quartet, the band is painstakingly cautious not too ruin too much of a good thing by indulging in crippling excess. Taut and concise, The Way of the Animal Powers is far from the masturbatory prog nightmare it could very well have been.

Historically an ensemble that is extremely comfortable engaging in musical collaboration (they have previously recorded with the likes of Eugene Chadbourne, Manu Chao, and Mau Mau), Zu team up on this outing with modern jazz cellist Fred Lomberg-Holm, though it must be said that the cellist's playing is predominately unrecognizable as such. Ostensibly a jazz quartet featuring drums, bass, cello, baritone and alto sax, Zu have as much in common with contemporary metal as they do with modern jazz. The noodling, expressive sax solos of Luca Tomasso betray the influence of James Chance much more than they do John Coltrane. Though clearly fluent in abstract, jazz-based rhythms, drummer Jacopo Battaglia's prodigiously accurate and mathematical double-bass pedal drum work (check out the mind-blowing skins on "Things Fall Apart") is as easily suited for the most technical of prog-metal bands. The droning, frequently overdriven bass playing of Massimo Pupillo is also redolent of a metal aesthetic (for crying out loud, the album begins with a track entitled "Tom Araya is Our Elvis"). Though the record's first two tracks are structurally closest to progressive metal, other pieces, such as "The Witch Herbalist of the Remote Town," demonstrate a tonal complexity and fluidity that showcase Zu's unmistakable jazz background.

The Way of the Animal Powers is a perfect amalgamation of No Wave, avant-garde jazz, and progressive rock. Though there is an audible dearth of electric guitar, Lomberg-Holm's angular, distorted, and often dissonant cello stabs align the band with the current spate of No Wave emulators -- though there is much, much more to the music of Zu than pure noise rock. From the initial and somewhat eerie opening notes of The Way of the Animal Powers, Zu make it clear that they intend to present something as engrossing as it is unique. Despite it being an almost purely instrumental affair, excepting a smattering of hilarious dialogue on "Anatomy of a Lost Battle," Zu prove that, like the best of the purveyors of what we call "post rock," music, when pushed to its boundaries, needn't fit the standard "songwriting" template to grab you by the ears and shake you.

1. Tom Araya is Our Elvis
2. Anatomy of a Lost Battle
3. Shape Shifting
4. The Aftermath
5. Things Fall Apart
6. The Witch Herbalist of the Remote Town
7. Farewell to the Species
8. A Fortress against Shadows
9. Every Seagull Knows

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