Ballou/Norton/Didkovsky
Zinc Nine Psychedelic

(Punos Music)

It took me a long time to place Zinc Nine Psychedelic inside the proper interpretative framework, this being no fault of the album (which is not at all difficult to listen to), by the way. The real cause for this being my (unconscious) comparing the album to Swim This, the album released about two years ago by the trio of Nick Didkovsky, Gerry Hemingway and Michael Lytle which featured a layered, highly technological approach to improvisation. Hence, my initial surprise when listening to music where "real time" meant something very different.

My second (unconscious) expectation dealt with improvisation as practised here, which (though obviously being the by now familiar creation "in the moment") was highly consonant and (relatively) easy to listen to, something which I haven't encountered in a long time. So I was quite surprised to find (what to me sounded like) echoes of Don Cherry, Milt Jackson, raga-rock, and Robert Fripp. There's also what to me appears as a "poetic" use of materials, with none of the "ironic" approach that's typical of the quotation practise so typical of "post-modernism".

All that's said above pertains to a critical perspective, something which listeners usually ignore (in both meanings of the word).

I had lost trace of Kevin Norton after his collaboration with Fred Frith's group Keep The Dog. My fault, as a quick Web search showed me. I have to confess this is the first time that I listen to "amplified, processed" trumpet player Dave Ballou. I'm obviously quite familiar with Nick Didkovsky: Doctor Nerve, Fred Frith Guitar Quartet, Bone, many solo works.

Recorded live (quite well, with nice use of dynamics) on November 5, 2006, Zync Nine Psychedelic presents about 1 hour from the three the group played in the course of that concert. Norton's drums are "dry" (not "fat") as rock drums, with fine-sounding cymbals; Ballou mostly plays in the trumpet's "soft" register; his guitar sounding mostly dry, Didkovsky never overplays.

Kaleidoscopic opens with low volume, a trumpet phrase played with the use of "repeat", small cymbal sounds, the guitar choosing pizzicato. The track gradually develops into a Davis-like "vamp", with the drums coming to the fore, the guitar growing in volume, and more than a pinch of end-of-the-60s California psychedelia, something which sounds halfway between The Grateful Dead and Fred Frith "in rock".

An "infinite note" takes us to Diffraction, a fine drum solo with an electronic-sounding background for guitar and effects.

Cortex sounded to me as bearing obvious traces of Don Cherry as "desert nomad"; there's a measured guitar, and fine harmonics from the cymbals played arco. Then the guitar becomes a harpsichord, with trumpet in the background.

After a long pedal from trumpet and guitar, Seeing Stars has the ghost of Milt Jackson playing a long vibes solo.

Electricity sounds almost like raga-rock, with the return of the "desert nomad", an "Indian"-sounding figure from the guitar, trumpet, cymbals fading in, and a crescendo, "flamenco", guitar.

Focus has big, exploding drums with tiny counterpoints from trumpet and guitar appearing below, then it's an explosion that takes us to Zap, with its howling crescendo.

Transformed has the guitar playing a slow cadenza, cymbals fading in, then - starting at about 3' - it's back to "Don Cherry".

Trumpet sounds almost Davis-like on Woodcut, while the guitar plays harshly, and the snare drum performs quite extreme excursions in volume.

Quite funny this, the guitar on Sleep reminded me - in mood, if not in the actual notes - of the guitar solo and the final part by Fripp on the King Crimson track The Sailor's Tale. Excellent drums, crescendo, some trumpet hits, cadenza, and out.

Beppe Colli


Beppe Colli 2009

CloudsandClocks.net | Oct. 18, 2009