Zs


(Copyright © 2010 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions )

Zs (2003), 6/10 (mini)
Arms (2007), 6.5/10
Music of the Modern White (2009), 7/10 (EP)
New Slaves (2010), 6.5/10
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New York-based double trio Zs, featuring two drummers (Alex Hoskins and Brad Wentworth), two guitarists (Charlie Looker and Matt Hough) and two saxophonists (Alex Mincek and Sam Hillmer), delivered surrealistic jazz-rock on the mini-album Zs (Troubleman, 2003). The stuttering childish Retrace A Walk, mimicking a melody that never coalesces, represents their harmonic low-end, whereas the chatter-box of Olympics evokes Canterbury-style prog-rock. The real treats are Slalom, that slowly builds to a climax through a methodic minimalist repetition of patterns by each instrument, each playing a different pattern; and the 16-minute Mimesis, that dispenses with the fractured interplay and delves into a slow, stealthy, pensive and almost sleepy form of polyphony.

The EP Karate Bump (Planaria, 2005) added the virtuoso horn concerto Karate and the subdued post-rock meditaiton of Bump.

Buck (2006) reenacted a few pieces of the old repertory and previewed others.

Arms (2007) contains another piece based on intricate minimalist repetition, B Is For Burning, and the first piece with vocals, Nobody Wants To Be Had, in which their frantic singsong interacts with a tidal wave of collective pounding. The music seems to be more jovial than high-brow. A funny game of contrast and imitation, Balk, is the introduction to the eleven-minute I Can't Concentrate, that toys with clownish and self-parodistic ideas. The simple Except When You Don't Because Sometimes You Won't is a manic, tribal case of babbling and chirping. But then the album ends with the nine-minute Z Is For Zone, whose stream of ringing bells and praying vocals evokes a spiritual trip through an enchanted forest.

The EP Hard (2008), containing the 15-minute Hard, started a mutation towards a less demanding kind of music. Paired down to a trio (Hillmer on sax, Greenberg on guitar, Ian Antonio on drums), Zs embarked in the The EP Music of the Modern White (2009) contains a two-part suite. The first part juxtaposes spastic metallic percussion against cacophonous howling saxophone and fibrillating space guitar until it decays into a murky wind. In the second part a hysterical saxophone fights against an electronic drone before a solo of (what appears to be) hand clapping, ending with feral guitar sound over frantic percussion and droning om-like saxophone.

Hillmer was the only constant throughout the various metamorphoses of the band, and the only surviving member on New Slaves (Social Registry, 2010), a parade of sophisticated constructions: Concert Black is a ticking merry-go-round that whirls around itself like a Moebius loop; the percussive ballet Acres Of Skin sounds like Zev performing a Brazilian batucada; Gentleman Amateur is just one thick buzzing drone; the abstract watercolor Don't Touch Me is almost musique concrete; and Masonry delves into crystal-calm ambient music. The 20-minute New Slaves returns to the minimalist repetition of their early days, but injecting into it grotesque and catastrophic overtones that lead to a hyper-tense finale. A two-movement 23-minute suite closes the album: Black Crown Ceremony I - Diamond Terrifier, a subdued piece of improvised saxophone mumbling over whispered drones; and Black Crown Ceremony II - Six Realms, in which the drones move to the foreground and become a shapeless slowly-moving mass with ghost-like features (possibly their all-time peak of pathos).

New Slaves II - Essence Implosion (Social Registry, 2011) is a remix album.

Zs Score - The Complete Sextet Works 2002-2007 collects 40 pieces.

Sam Hillmer also launched Diamond Terrifier that debuted with the sax solo Kill The Self That Wants To Kill Yourself.

Grain EP (Nothern Spy, 2013) and XE (Northern Spy, 2015) featured a new Zs lineup: Sam Hillmer, Greg Fox and Patrick Higgins.

Zs' guitarists Charlie Looker and drummer Mike Pride and formed the duo Period that released 1 (Funhole) and 2 (Public Eyesore, 2014), also featuring Sam Hillmer (tenor sax), laptop musician Chuck Bettis and alto saxophonist Darius Jones.

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(Copyright © 2010 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions )
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